News in South Africa 12th January:
1. Schools still to open?:
Cyril Ramaphosa offered little clarity on Monday evening on whether schools would open on January 25, as concerns remain about the Covid-19 second wave, hinting that an announcement was imminent.
“As schools and other educational institutions prepare to begin the new academic year, there is understandably concern about whether this is advisable in the midst of a second wave of infections,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.
“The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) is dealing with this issue and we will provide guidance on this matter in the coming days.”
Reports on Monday suggested that schools may only reopen in February. According to the calendar released by the basic education department last year, schools open for teachers on January 25 and for children on January 27.
The National Teachers’ Union (Natu) on Monday called on the department to “think carefully” about the move.
It said pupils from historically disadvantaged schools had fallen behind in curriculum coverage last year, which saw many not completing the academic year.
“Many learners remain unaccounted for between March and December 2020,” said general secretary Cynthia Barnes. “It is for this reason that we call upon the department of education to ensure that its risk-adjusted strategy is sensitive to the fact that some schools are bound to suffer more than others, if schools open before the conditions are right.
2. Results of Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials:
The results of Johnson & Johnson’s late-stage trial of its vaccine are now expected on 21 January, after which data can be submitted for approval by regulators.
Hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine are expected to be manufactured in Port Elizabeth.
None have so far been secured for use in South Africa.
Due to this and lack of clarity President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing increased calls to take personal and direct responsibility for vaccine procurement after he stressed the importance of vaccines in his address on Monday night – but had no new details to share after what he said had been six months of negotiations.
3. Working conditions of doctors shocking:
As Gauteng Premier David Makhura and Steve Biko Academic Hospital CEO Dr Mathabo Mathebula tried on Monday to explain away images of gravely ill patients being treated in pouring rain in tents outside the hospital, healthcare workers have broken their silence about the conditions under which they work.
Doctors at Steve Biko Academic Hospital say they feel helpless and hopeless to help the scores of patients arriving at the facility daily.
Faced with gravely ill patients, a lack of personal protective equipment, overcrowding, increased pressure and poor working conditions, the doctors who spoke out said more and more patients were dying on their watch.
“I don’t feel like I am being protected by our hospital right now. I am running around like a chicken without a head. I feel very hopeless. I feel like I should not care anymore. Caring is actually just hurting me and the patients because instead of me doing what I said I was going to do when I left medicine, I am treating these people like numbers. Someone dies and you have to shrug your shoulders and move on to the next. There is not even a minute to mourn a person or to figure out what went wrong. I feel completely hopeless,” stated a doctor.
Another doctor said, “People are dying in the tents. We can’t take any of these patients into the hospital. So any patient that we think has Covid cannot go into the hospital, unless they are negative. That’s why they heap up here (in the tents). There’s patients that stay here for days. And then when we turn our back, they are blue, they [are] dead. The oxygen doesn’t work, the beds are horrible, there are not enough nurses and our doctors are overwhelmed. I don’t know what to say. I am so tired. There is equipment that is failing.
4. Mediclinic in need of volunteers:
As a result of increased demand on medical facilities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mediclinic Southern Africa is in need of volunteers to ease the burden.
Positive experiences with volunteers at its Vergelegen Hospital in Somerset West prompted officials to roll this model out to many of its other medical centres.
Mediclinic’s Dr Amelia Brink said volunteers would be given a clear explanation of their role and responsibilities.
“We had asked for psychologists and registered counsellors to please volunteer their time and sit in the tea rooms and identify the staff that are in dire need of help and to talk it through. The response we’ve had has been overwhelming.”
5. Medical aids working on plan B:
According to Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, South Africa will receive Covid-19 vaccines from India this month, but only frontline workers will be the first in line for the one million vaccines. For the rest of us, when vaccines eventually become accessible you will have your Covid-19 vaccinations subsidised by medical schemes that pool health-insurance premiums through an agreement with government. Of course, this is if you are on medical aid.
“We have to watch the vaccine distribution carefully. I think the availability of the vaccines is the major issue. We’ve got some insights into the pricing and some plans in terms of distribution, but we really need to get the vaccines into the country and ready to deliver to everybody in the country. There’s no doubt that that priority schedule and that phased approach rolled out by the minister is going to cause some ructions, and obviously we need to see if we can get enough vaccine eventually during 2021 to vaccinate everybody.” said Craig Comrie the CEO of Profmed
Medical aids in South Africa are currently grappling with the question of a plan B for Covid vaccine procurement, should government’s plans fail.
Government has claimed the monopoly on the sourcing and distribution of vaccines in South Africa, with president Cyril Ramaphosa claiming that 20 million doses have been secured, though with no further detail.
Medical aids will be helping to fund the procurement, but have been left with no capacity to secure doses themselves, leaving members vulnerable to the tenuous capabilities of the state.