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Two Free State police stations closed due to COVID-19 cases
9 July 2020, 2:30 PM

Two police stations in the Free State have been closed after members tested positive for COVID-19.

Police spokesperson Motantsi Makhele says the telephone lines at Batho Police Station Community Service Centre in Bloemfontein will no longer be accessible.

Community members requiring police assistance and emergencies have been advised to call 10111.

Another police station in Theunissen was closed after a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Both police stations will be decontaminated during the closure and affected members will undergo necessary COVID-19 related protocols.

Makhele says the communities will be informed once the stations are operational again.

In June, Police Minister Bheki Cele confirmed that 1 685 law enforcement officers had tested positive for the COVID-19, with 14 officers having died from the coronavirus.

“We as the South African police, as you know, we are in the frontline and we still suffer. We’ve got about 1 685 members nationally that have been affected, unfortunately, a big part of them are in the Western Cape at 1 034,” said the Police Minister.

“In Gauteng, we’ve got 119, in the Eastern Cape 186, KZN we’ve got 53 with 14 deaths altogether, and we are saluting those that are dying on the frontline, trying to defend and to make sure that all South Africans are safe,” he added.

South Africa has a total of 224 665 COVID-19 cases and 3 602 related deaths.

Below is an infographic of the infections per province:

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Employers should not rush to send employees for testing: Health experts
9 July 2020, 12:01 PM

Health experts say there is no need for employers to send all employees for immediate COVID-19 testing if one person tests positive in the workplace.

They however say all other employees in the business should be interviewed immediately to assess their level of exposure and whether they need to be quarantined or not.

Clinical virologist at Lancet Laboratories, Professor Eftyxia Vardas says unnecessary testing is putting undue pressure on the already overwhelmed system and thereby exacerbating backlogs.

Varda says if an employee has been in close contact with the positive employee, and had inadequate personal protective equipment (PPEs) or not protection at all, but has no COVID-19 symptoms, they should be sent home for self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Unless they’ve had significant contact with that infected person and what we mean by significant contact is not wearing a mask, not adhering to social distancing and sharing utensils or eating in the same area for more than 15 minutes and face to face contact closer than 1.5 meters and that of course should not be happening. Most workplaces have got criteria and instructions and protocols in place to stop significant contacts from occurring,” says Varda.

Lancet Laboratories say unnecessary testing for coronavirus has also resulted in a backlog at a number of their testing sites.

They say unnecessary tests have had an impact on the turnaround times for urgent matters that require results at healthcare facilities, saying there have a backlog of almost 20 000 swaps.

“What the backlog means is that we can’t effectively reach the turnaround times for the tests that are actually needed for the sick people and health care workers. Our turnaround time is up to four days now and that is actually a useless test,” says Vardas.

She says that they are getting a lot of requests from people outside the health care sector.

“So, a lot of people that are worried that there might have had exposure and I guess that the worry is real. We are entering a community-based epidemic at the moment but the testing has to be kept now directed to health care workers and those people that are actually are sick and in hospitals and have had high-risk contacts.”

Lancet Laboratories Clinical Virologist says other private laboratories are inundated with requests for tests: 

Lancet workers accuse employer of flouting COVID-19 regulations

With the rising number of infections in Gauteng, some workers have accused their employers of flouting COVID-19 health regulations.

It is alleged they’re forcing staff to come to work even after there have been positive cases of COVID-19 in their work area.

Lancet Laboratories is one of the companies that is being accused of violating COVID-19 protocols.

“We are really frustrated and angry because we don’t know what we will end up with, at the end of the day we still have to go to work to provide for our families,” says an anonymous Lancet laboratory worker.

“The problem is that we are an essential service, but we don’t get proper PPEs. We are not screened at work and we are told that we must check our own temperature – how am I going to do that because when I leave home I don’t even have a thermometer with me,” says the worker.

In the video below, report on Lancet’s alleged flouting of COVID-19 protocols:

Two weeks ago one of the staff members allegedly tested positive for COVID-19.

The rest of the staffers claim that the offices were not sanitised and they were not tested yet they were forced to continue to work.

They further alleged that the company has forbidden them from talking about this issue and were instructed to come to work as if it was business as usual.

They say they were not provided with counselling to assist them during this highly stressful time.

The staffer is also angry that they are being forced to pay for the COVID-19 tests from their own pockets.

“Day in and out I am working with COVID-19 samples,  the company says if I suspect I have corona then I must get tested but I must pay for the test myself. This is really unfair because we are also under a lot of stress and depression because we are vulnerable and we don’t know where to run,” says the Lancet worker.

They also claim that an email was sent out by management, at the beginning of the month, telling staff to rather monitor their own temperature daily before coming to work.

They say employees have been threatened with disciplinary action if they fail to disclose any COVID-19 related symptoms to their managers.

With job security threatened, many are afraid to disclose their symptoms and are forced to stay at home not knowing whether they will be paid or not at the end of the month.

 

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Access to food a major problem for many under lockdown
9 July 2020, 11:01 AM

According to a Foundation for Human Rights survey entitled Human Rights Diagnosis: Community Advice Offices and COVID-19, access to food remains the biggest challenge South Africans have faced during the pandemic.

The full results of the survey are yet to be released, but Executive Director Hanif Vally about 80 percent of people surveyed cited poverty as the biggest challenge during the lockdown.

Vally says, “Of all the issues, something like 80% of the issues and something like 80% of the people surveyed said that the communities that they were representing, 80% of those guys had problems getting food. There was some food being provided by local government, that amounts to 45%. The food provided by NGO’s about 38% and private donors as well played a role 36% of people said that this is where they are getting food from…”

“But all in all 80% of people interviewed had serious problems accessing food during the lockdown,” Vally says.

A look at the food landscape in a post COVID-19 world:

 

In May World food prices fell for a third consecutive month in April, hit by the economic and logistical impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) food price index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat, and sugar, averaged 165.5 points last month, down 3.4% on March.

The FAO sugar price index fell to a 13-year low, plunging 14.6% from March, with the coronavirus crisis hitting demand and tumbling crude oil prices also reducing the need for sugarcane to produce ethanol, the Rome-based agency said.

The vegetable oil price index fell 5.2%, hit by falling palm, soy, and rapeseed oil values, while the dairy index dropped 3.6%, with butter and milk powder prices posting double-digit declines.

The meat index shed 2.7%, with a partial recovery in import demand from China failing to balance a slump in imports elsewhere.

FAO also said major producing countries suffered logistical bottlenecks, while coronavirus lockdowns in many nations had caused a sharp fall in sales.

“The pandemic is hitting both the demand and supply sides for meat, as restaurant closures and reduced household incomes lead to lower consumption and labour shortages on the processing side are impacting just-in-time production systems,” said FAO Senior Economist Upali Galketi Aratchilage.

N Cape residents plead for help from health department
9 July 2020, 10:25 AM

Residents of Logobate Village near Kuruman in the Northern Cape say they have been left without a clinic after strong winds blew off the roof of the clinic.

According to residents, this has left the clinic closed for nearly a month and for surrounding villages which depend on the clinic, this has meant no access to healthcare. 

The residents say their cries for help have fallen on deaf ears.

“Our government is delaying to help us. The nurses have been reporting about this roof for a long time but the district health office did nothing to help us.”

“Our government needs to help us with this clinic because our sick people are suffering and five villages rely on this clinic and they are all suffering.”

Impact on healthcare workers:

 

Meanwhile, Western Cape Health Minister Nomafrench Mbombo has cut short a visit to health facilities in Khayelitsha due to safety issues, after a group of healthcare workers staged protests at various clinics, demanding permanent employment, benefits and protective equipment in the fight against COVID-19.

The community-based healthcare workers staged a demonstration at the entrance of the Khayelitsha Community Health Centre in Site B ahead of Mbombo’s arrival.

Health worker Ntombethemba Maduna says their work in the community is not being recognised.

“We demand permanent employment like professional nurses because our work is the same and more, but the money we are earning is not enough when compared with the work we are doing. We want to be recognised by your department as permanent workers in South Africa.”

Mbombo later invited the leadership of the workers to a meeting next week.

“Let us meet next week. I’m not going to promise you anything in front of the TV and later say something else, but let’s meet next week and deal with the problems once and for all,” says Mbombo.

Community health workers staged a similar protest at the nearby Michael Maphongwana Community Health Centre in Harare. Health worker Bongiwe Chipeio says they are demanding proper PPEs.

“Our demand is proper PPEs. Most of our CHW’s have been infected with this COVID-19. One of us died yesterday (Tuesday) and nothing has been done. Our workplaces are overcrowded. There’s is not social distancing and nothing is being done.”

The healthcare workers are also demanding permanent employment by the provincial health department.

2020 academic year likely to spill over into 2021: Nzimande
9 July 2020, 9:33 AM

Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande on Wednesday announced that the intake of first-year university students for 2021 may take place later than usual. 

While giving an update on the return of South Africa’s students to universities, community colleges and other institutions of higher learning, Nzimande covered a range of topics, including transformation policies and a probe into the salaries of vice-chancellors and senior executives at public universities.

Nzimande said the end of the 2020 academic year is likely to spill over into the 2021 calendar.

Nzimande says, “As you can see now, already because of the challenges we are facing in 2020 already we are going to have pressure for the 2021 academic year so everyone, parents, students and other stakeholders must realise that unless we cooperate, unless we commit not to waste teaching and learning time, the future of our many students, thousands of them will be at stake.”

The minister said a maximum of 33 percent of the student population will be returning to university campuses and residence, on condition of guaranteed health and safety protocols.

“This 33% of the returning students will include students in the final year of their programmes who are on their path to graduating in 2020, final year students who require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data connectivity and access to residents and private accommodation, students in all years of study who require clinical training in their programmes and postgraduate students who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies, Nzimande added.

Blade Nzimande holds joint media briefing on COVID-19 measures:

He says,  the Community Education and Training Colleges recorded a low return rate since reopening at the end of June. He said this was due to anxiety over the pandemic and the closure of the hosting school.

He added that the former adult and basic education centres have also been hard hit by infections.

Nzimande says, “Unfortunately our community colleges are in a far riskier situation than universities and TVET colleges not that those are immune either, it is our considered view therefore that for the 2020 academic year, serious considerations would have to be made that the return of the students be limited to general educations and training certificate of ABET qualification, senior certificate, occupational programmes and adult education & training sub level 3 student. This will enable community learning centres to comply with regulations, especially physical distancing.”

Nzimande raised concerns about reports of students using data provided by universities to download movies and other non-academic information.

“I must also say that I remain unhappy about some of the reports I’m getting that some of the students are using the data bundles for private use such as downloading movies and even disturbing undesirable content. I just want to emphasise once more this data must be used for dedicated online education platforms, for teaching and learning as approved by our institutions, everyone must know.”

Nzimande added that he has requested the Council on Higher Education (CHE) to commission an inquiry into the salaries of vice-chancellors and senior executives at public universities.

“This research must focus on the comparison of salaries of vice-chancellors and senior executive managers to those of academics and the rest of the non-academic staff and workers for the period covering 2005. Portfolio committee was concerned; a concern which I share that there is often no correlation between the size and nature of the institution and the salaries of the vice chancellors amongst other things and that also there is concern that the gap between the salaries of vice chancellors and workers on the ground it’s just too huge”

He announced that the department of science and innovation, together with the South African COVID-19 research team, are probing whether the local indigenous herb, Artemisia afra, (also known as umhlonyane in Nguni languages) could be used to treat coronavirus., saying the research also involves other South African herbs

Nzimande says, “Our department of science and innovation is also leading a research and innovation pillar of the cannabis industrialisation master plan. To this extent, our focus is to develop medicinal products for COVID-19, cancers, diabetes, TB and HIV/AIDS and neurodegenerative diseases, amongst others.”

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