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COVID-19 wreaks havoc in Northern Cape schools
6 June 2021, 12:02 PM

COVID-19 infections continue to wreak havoc at Northern Cape schools. The provincial Education Department has for the fourth consecutive week recorded an increase in coronavirus infections at schools.

Last week, over  300 COVID-19 cases were recorded. Those infected include learners, teachers and support staff.

Provincial education department spokesperson Geoffrey Van Der Merwe says some of the schools which were closed, will reopen on Monday.

“In total, we recorded 348 positive COVID-19 cases during last week, which includes 52 educators, 276 learners and 20 support staff at schools. This is evidence that our schools are mirrors of the rising infection rate in our communities. Parents must ensure that they limit the movement and social interaction of their children in and around their communities. Currently, we still have 11 schools closed in the Northern Cape due to COVID-19 infections. Of these schools, nine are scheduled to reopen on Monday, 7 June 2021.”

The country has also recorded 97 new COVID-19 related fatalities on Saturday, which brings the total number of deaths to 56 929.

Latest SA stats:

Public hearings on the Children’s Amendment Bill kick starts in Limpopo
6 June 2021, 10:35 AM

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Social Development kick starts public hearings on the Children’s Amendment Bill at Makwarela township outside Thohoyandou in Limpopo on Sunday.

The Bill is meant to improve foster care services to children. It is also meant to resolve parental responsibilities on unmarried fathers, child marriages, services to children born to foreign parents and unaccompanied migrant children.

Limpopo and Mpumalanga are the first provinces to be visited by the committee. Limpopo has a number of cases of unaccompanied migrant children especially around Musina and the Beitbridge border post.

The committee will on Monday conduct public hearings at the Lenyenye community hall outside Tzaneen.

LRC calls for major overhaul of Children’s Act

The Legal Resource Centre (LRC) says the Children’s Act may need a major overhaul or separate legislation will have to be developed for Early Childhood Development (ECD).

The LRC is among the stakeholders making virtual submissions on the Children’s Amendment Bill before the Social Development Committee.

The Bill seeks among other things to further promote and protect the child’s rights. Some stakeholders argue that the Bill does not address reform in ECD.

An attorney from the Legal Resource Centre Sipesihle Mguga says: “So it appears that a major overhaul in relation to the Children’s Act in relation to ECD will be necessary or alternatively a new piece of legislation will need to be created specifically for  ECD or the Schools Act will require amendments. It is evident that the Bill has not taken cognisance of the migration of ECD from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education as the Bill still assigns responsibilities to Social Development instead of Basic Education. Whatever legislative route is decided  upon, the decision not to make the necessary legislative reforms now appears to be a serious oversight.”

 

Senegal aims to make COVID-19 vaccines next year
6 June 2021, 9:42 AM

Senegal could begin producing COVID-19 vaccines next year under an agreement with Belgian biotech group Univercells aimed at boosting Africa’s drug-manufacturing ambitions, a source involved in funding the project told Reuters.

As wealthy countries begin to reopen after securing vaccine supplies early, African nations are still struggling to acquire shots. On a continent of 1.3 billion, only about 7 million have been fully vaccinated.

The collaboration highlights the opportunities created by a global push to channel money and technology towards production on a continent that makes only 1% of the vaccines it requires.

Univercells announced the signing of a letter of intent for collaboration with the Institut Pasteur in Senegal’s capital Dakar in April. The source shared details of the proposal, which were not made public.

Under the agreement, the Institut Pasteur would use vaccine production technology developed by Univercells to supply COVID-19 vaccine shots to countries across West Africa.

The institute would initially begin packaging and distributing vaccines produced by Univercells in Belgium early next year, the source involved in securing financing for the collaboration told Reuters.

Univercells would transfer its full production line to Senegal in the second half of 2022, the source said, adding that the company would train local staff so they could eventually run the operation.

Univercells chief investment officer Kate Antrobus, when asked about the timeframe for the project, confirmed that it could send vaccine doses to Senegal early next year.

She declined to comment on the exact date for a full vaccine production line in Senegal but of the timelines referenced she said: “I do not think they are unreasonable.”

Timing depends on Univercells securing regulatory approval for a vaccine production site in Belgium. Antrobus said that was expected “any day now”.

Institut Pasteur director Amadou Sall declined to comment on the timeline or size of the project but said the facility was working with donors to secure financial backing.

“There is a lot of political will, I am optimistic. But it is not about momentum, it is about creating a real opportunity,” he said.

It is not clear yet what vaccine will be supplied to Senegal, but Antrobus said the site in Belgium would be able to manufacture a class of so-called viral vector COVID-19 vaccines such as those developed by Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Cansino.

“If COVID amazingly subsides over the next year….that same capacity could be used for other viruses,” Antrobus said.

Univercells also has its own COVID-19 vaccine candidate, being developed with Germany’s Leukocare and Italian firm ReiThera, which has completed Phase II trials. It is seeking financing to carry out Phase III, which the Italian government said it is ready to fund.

300 MILLION DOSES NEXT YEAR

Senegal’s Institut Pasteur is the only facility in Africa currently producing a vaccine – a yellow fever shot – that is pre-qualified by the World Health Organization, which requires manufacturers to meet strict international standards.

Pre-qualification allows facilities to supply to major buyers like the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

Donors including the United States and the European Union are lining up to help fund an expansion at the institute to incorporate COVID-19 vaccines, the source involved in fundraising said.

A call by the Institute for an initial $10 million in funding has been oversubscribed, the source said.

A UK government-funded cost analysis conducted for the Institut Pasteur, seen by the same source, said that the project would cost about $200 million, based on its aim to produce 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of next year.

Financing will depend on the institute having committed buyers. According to the cost analysis, the project would be commercially viable if it produced vaccines other than COVID-19, so it can keep functioning after the pandemic.

STRATEGIC PLAN

Africa’s struggles to secure vaccine supplies exposed its vulnerability to health crises and pushed governments to find ways to boost medicine and vaccine production.

Those efforts are now gaining traction with wealthy countries.

The European Union said last month that it will invest at least 1 billion euros to build manufacturing hubs in Africa, with Senegal, South Africa, Rwanda, Morocco and Egypt among the leading candidates.

South Africa’s Biovac Institute told Reuters it has been in touch with the French and German governments and pharmaceutical companies with an aim to produce 30 million COVID-19 vaccines annually.

South African company, Aspen Pharmacare, is already producing shots of the J&J vaccine locally.

The EU plan, in coordination with the African Union, aims to bolster drug regulators in Africa, train Africans in the skills needed to expand the pharmaceutical industry, and support businesses producing materials and components.

The plan will look at countries that “can move quickly, and which have the political capital to drag that forward,” John Nkengasong, director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

Africa’s $1.3 billion vaccine market could rise to as high as $5.4 billion by 2030 because of population growth and the availability of new vaccines, US-based consultancy McKinsey and Company said in an April report.

There is still a long way to go, experts say.

Beyond the need for financing, governments and regulators need to make it easier for technology to be transferred to Africa, and to reduce risk through public-private partnerships.

“These are really mid to long-term goals, so you’re looking at one to two years minimum,” said Chema Triki of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. “It’s not just about COVID. Africa needs to be ready for the next pandemic.”

Shortage of health officials at ports of entry cause congestion
6 June 2021, 9:18 AM

The Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations says the shortage of port health officials at the Ramatlabama and Skilpadhek border crossings in North West is causing congestion.

The two border points close at 6pm instead of the normal 10pm and midnight cut offs. It is reported that the borders have a shortage of port health officials leading to large numbers of drivers waiting to be screened for COVID-19.

The association’s CEO Mike Fitzmaurice says this is unacceptable.

“It is a huge problem for transporters to plan trips surrounding these issues. We now have a border post at Skilpadshek with Botswana being closed from 06h00 to 18h00 Saturday and Sunday due to unavailability of port health officials. This means that transporters will travel courier services through the border post to Namibia will now not be able to cross during the evening like they usually do. This is simply not acceptable.”

COVID-19 statistics in South Africa:

The country has also recorded 97 new COVID-19 related fatalities on Saturday, which brings the total number of deaths to 56 929.

Latest SA stats:

Biden rejects new Republican infrastructure offer
5 June 2021, 2:24 PM

President Joe Biden and Republicans entered the weekend sharply at odds over how to craft an infrastructure deal that could satisfy their camps, imperiling the odds of a bipartisan deal.

Democrat Biden shot down a new proposal from the main Republican negotiator on infrastructure, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, that increased spending by about $50 billion over their last offer, the White House said.

Biden rejected the offer, saying it “did not meet his objectives to grow the economy, tackle the climate crisis, and create new jobs.”

Republicans had previously offered roughly $257 billion in new spending, short of the $2.25 trillion Biden initially offered and suggested he might bring down to as low as $1 trillion.

And while the two sides agreed to speak again on Monday, the White House also strongly signaled that they may seek a path forward with other Republican lawmakers or even with only Democrats.

“He indicated to Senator Capito that he would continue to engage a number of Senators in both parties in the hopes of achieving a more substantial package,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Up until now, Capito has been Biden’s primary negotiating partner. Monday’s conversation will be their third in a week.

Biden is eager to show that he made a good-faith effort at a bipartisan deal, sources said, but he risks creating division among Democrats, some who believe he is giving up too much to Republicans. Democrats hold narrow majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

A Capito spokesperson offered scant detail of what was discussed on the call, saying that they “continued negotiating” and discussed both sides’ views.

UNCERTAIN PATH

Friday’s call showed serious hurdles remain to bipartisan negotiations even just two days after Biden floated his biggest concession yet.

Biden offered to drop his plan to raise corporate tax rates as high as 28% during an Oval Office meeting with Capito, sources said, replacing it with a minimum 15% tax rate aimed at ensuring all companies pay taxes.

Republican leaders see corporate tax hikes to finance the construction of roads, bridges, water pipes and other projects as a non-starter.

Biden could now choose to strike a deal including most of his wish list that might, at best, only secure the backing of his fellow Democrats.

Doing so would require seeking a party-line “reconciliation” vote. Reconciliation circumvents Senate rules that effectively require 60 votes to pass most legislation.

But Biden’s one-on-one sessions between Biden and Capito are increasingly testing liberal Democrats’ patience by watering down their goals and delaying legislative action in the period before Congress goes into recess for summer vacation.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a liberal courted by the White House, said Republicans have passed massive tax cuts without bipartisan support and that he saw no reason Democrats couldn’t move forward in a similar fashion.

“Please don’t tell me we can’t use the same tools to help working people,” Sanders wrote on Twitter.

A group of young activists from the Sunrise Movement, which wants to halt climate change and create jobs, gathered in front of the White House on Friday to protest what they called Biden’s broken promises and pandering to Republicans.

“We are demanding that he stops working with the GOP, that he meets with us instead and that he passes the biggest, most robust infrastructure package that he can,” said 24-year-old Ellen Sciales, one of the members of the Sunrise Movement that was consulted by Biden’s presidential campaign.

House lawmakers have already started work on a bill that may end up as a one-party effort. Biden called the Democratic leader of a congressional committee working on that bill, Peter DeFazio, to “to offer his support” for that initial work, Psaki said.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had said the White House sees Monday – when Congress returns from a one-week break – as a critical date to see progress in talks.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki stopped short on Friday of declaring any deadline.

“We’re going to keep a range of pathways open,” she told reporters.

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