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12 million in SA ‘probably’ had coronavirus

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About 12 million people in South Africa have “probably” been infected with the coronavirus, but that startlingly high number has not caused a similarly high death rate and might indicate a widespread “level of immunity”, the minister of health says.

More than 20 percent of South Africa’s population of 58 million have had the virus at some point, Dr Zweli Mkhize estimated earlier this week.

He cited studies that found the presence of coronavirus antibodies in blood samples taken from parts of the population.

The findings have prompted the government to start a more complete national study, Mkhize said.

“South Africa has seen the surge receding, and thus raises the question of the level of immunity that may already be existing in society,” he said.

Other studies have indicated that up to 40 percent of the population might be immune to the virus, the health minister said.

Some South African experts suggest that Africa’s most developed economy may be approaching herd immunity, but scientists believe at least 70-80 percent of a population needs to be immune before there’s any effect.

And with COVID-19 it’s unclear how long that immunity might last.

Amid significantly decreasing confirmed virus cases, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a further easing of lockdown restrictions, which includes a limited opening of international borders to travellers from some countries.

South Africa’s number of confirmed virus cases has dropped dramatically in recent weeks after a peak in late July that saw the country recording up to 15 000 cases daily, and raised fears that health services in some major cities might collapse.

Official figures showed just 772 new cases on Tuesday.

South Africa is also seeing declines in hospital admissions, people in intensive care units and deaths attributed to COVID-19, Mkhize said.

“Consistency across these indicators reassures us that, indeed, we are in the midst of a trough in the pandemic,” he said.

South Africa has just over 650 000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the government’s latest official count, the eighth-highest caseload in the world.

At its peak, South Africa was the fifth most affected country, behind the United States, India, Brazil and Russia, which all have much larger populations.

Experts have tried for months to figure out why South Africa’s official death rate from the virus is low.

There were fears at the start of the pandemic that poverty, crowded living conditions, restricted access to clean water and the high prevalence of tuberculosis and HIV would put South Africa, and Africa at large, in danger of millions of deaths.

So far, that hasn’t happened.

South Africa is by far the worst affected country in Africa with nearly half of the continent’s 1.3 million confirmed cases.

There have been 33 000 deaths from COVID-19 in the 54 countries in Africa, which has a population of 1.3 billion people.

That death count is less than the number of people who have died in either the UK or Italy, and far less than the United States’ 195 000 confirmed deaths.

But Africa’s figures, tallied by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rely on figures from the individual countries and many have extremely limited testing.

The number of South Africa’s actual deaths from COVID-19 is expected to be considerably higher.

From early May until mid-September, the country has recorded 44 000 more deaths than the historic average.

Many of those deaths are believed to be from COVID-19, but the people weren’t tested.

Other deaths could be people with other diseases who avoided care because of COVID-19 infection fears or couldn’t access it because resources were diverted to the pandemic, experts have said.

“We think roughly 30 000 rather than 15 000 people have died from COVID-19,” Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witswatersrand, said in a webinar this week.

“We must appreciate that there had been many deaths outside of hospitals.”

Even with that higher level of deaths, South Africa’s mortality rate from COVID-19 appears relatively low.

Some health experts think that millions in South Africa’s poor, densely populated townships — which many thought would be terribly affected by the virus — may have generated an immunity to the virus because of the previous and frequent spread of other coronaviruses, including those for the common cold and flu.

“They have been exposed, they developed this key cell immunity which helps them to fight the severe effects of COVID-19,” said Madhi, the lead researcher on a clinical trial in South Africa of the coronavirus vaccine that Oxford University is developing with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

“They may have achieved an underpinning immunity.” – AP

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Minister shuts down troubled Free State water supplier

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MOVE GAZETTED . . . Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has disestablished Sedibeng Water

Staff and key assets from the embattled Sedibeng Water Board are set to be transferred to the Bloemwater and Magalies water boards following the gazetting of the move by Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu last week.

The department’s spokesperson, Sputnik Ratau, said in a statement the development is in line with the minister’s commitment to review the country’s water boards to enable them to perform optimally while enhancing the delivery of water to municipalities and ultimately to households.

The decision to disestablish Sedibeng Water – which served Matjhabeng, Masilonyana and Nala local municipalities, among others – means its staff, assets and liabilities will be absorbed by Bloemwater in the Free State and Magalies in Gauteng.

The move, according to Ratau, was initiated by the minister following his working sessions with provincial governments, various water services authorities and water boards regarding issues of governance, financial viability as well as accountability and broader service delivery issues after taking office in August last year.

“The review is based on considerations of financial sustainability, servicing areas that are not currently serviced and is also intended to address institutional confusion caused by having multiple water boards serving the same area,” said Ratau.

“The disestablishment of Sedibeng Water is in accordance with section 28 of the Water Services Act of 1997 which affords Minister Mchunu the authority to disestablish a water board.

“The gazette was published on Friday, 20 May 2022 and will remain open to the public for a period of 40 days.

“Members of the public and all interested parties are invited to make comments in writing on the disestablishment of the board.”

The department said it will ensure there is smooth transition of the disestablishment and that water service provision to communities is not affected.

Based in Bothaville, Sedibeng Water was established to, among others, treat wastewater and supply potable water in a viabile and sustainable manner.

However, in recent years, some of the municipalities served by the water board have struggled over the years to pay on time for the bulk water supplies even though residents have argued that they pay their monthly bills on time.

At the end of March this year, Sedibeng reportedly owed its service providers over R5-billion as it was struggling to secure payment from several municipalities. – Staff Reporter

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Guptas lose application to have restraint order case postponed

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NO SMILING MATTER . . . An interim restraint order against a company that Atul Gupta, seen in this file photo, co-owns with his brother and their wives remains in force

The Free State High Court on Friday dismissed a last-minute application brought by the directors of the Gupta-owned slandsite Investments 180 (Pty) to postpone the return day of the provisional restraint order against company, Iqbal Sharma and others.

Acting Judge Neil Snellenburg will provide a written judgment for dismissing the postponement application on Monday.

The directors sought a postponement pending their application to the Supreme Court of Appeal where they are appealing against a High Court ruling passed in August 2021 that said the business rescue practitioners of Islandsite, not the directors, have the authority to represent the company in the restraint proceedings.

Investigating Directorate spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka said in a statement the interim restraint order will remain in force until the next court hearing on 20 and 21 October, when the confirmation hearing is expected to be heard.

The assets under restraint include properties of Iqbal Sharma and his wife, his UAE-registered company, Issar Global, his wife Tarina Patel-Sharma, as well as all property of Islandsite, which is owned by Atul and Rajesh Gupta and their respective wives, Chetali and Arti Gupta.

The interim restraint order was granted in June 2021, in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crimes Act (POCA).

Sharma’s assets that form part of the curator’s inventory include his Sandton home valued at over R12-million.

The property was featured on the lifestyle television programme, Top Billing, and is owned by Issar Global.

Other assets include movable property valued at R500 000, a Porsche and a R1.3 million sectional title home in Sandton.

Properties owned by Gupta family company Islandsite that form part of the inventory include a house worth R21-million in Constantia, Cape Town, and a R12-million house in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.

Said Seboka: “The interim restraint order continues to run . . . that means the curator that is looking after the assets remains in place, meaning there is no chance for those assets being disseminated.

“The state is quite comfortable that the assets will not be taken abroad or be given to other people, in terms of the shares.

“They continue to be in safekeeping.

“For us that is pivotal and the court has found enough evidence in that respect.” – Staff Reporter

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Ex-MEC faces probe over failed R1-billion Free State housing project

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NO PROPER LEADERSHIP . . . Former Free State MEC for human settlements Mosebenzi Zwane criticised

The State Capture Commission wants former Free State MEC for human settlements Mosebenzi Zwane investigated for failing to provide “proper provincial leadership” in a failed R1-billion provincial housing project.

The department’s former head, Nthimotse Mokhesi, told the commission, led by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that his office had made an advance payment of more than R500-million to the project’s contractors before any work was done.

Described in the fourth part of the State Capture Commission’s report as a “dismal failure”, the housing project was dogged by several factors including a decision by former Free State premier Ace Magashule to build bigger RDP houses from the initial 40-square-metre units without consulting the provincial human settlements department and the contractors.

The commission found that Zwane, the human settlements MEC at the time, “failed to provide proper provincial leadership” with regard to the R1-billion housing project.

The report criticised Magashule for not monitoring projects and not holding Zwane accountable.

It said instead Magashule made Zwane the MEC for agriculture, “where he continued with his dismal performance”, resulting in the Estina/Vrede Dairy Farm collapse. – Staff Reporter

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