Tag: coronavirus

Source: eNCA

The Western Cape Health Department is appealing to the public to stop using gloves and masks. It warns these items have a risk of spreading coronavirus if not used properly.

The Head of the Western Cape Department of Health, Dr Beth Engelbrecht, says if a person is not ill and has not been in contact with infected persons they don’t need to wear masks and gloves.

“We saw that people are wearing masks and actually that could put them in more danger if they do.

If you wear a mask and you don’t need it then you fiddle with the mask all the time and you touch your face frequently and the face is the area where most of the infection gets through to the body so it puts you at risk,” said Dr Engelbrecht.

She said washing your hands with soap and water and ensuring you don’t touch your face is the best solution.

* This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.

 

Netcare to treat state Covid-19 patients

By Kevin Brandt for EWN

Private hospital group Netcare will treat state patients diagnosed with COVID-19 at its healthcare facilities.

These patients, the hospital group said, would be pre-authorised on a case-by-case-basis.

Netcare Group CEO, Dr Richard Friedland, said they were committed to assisting government in containing the spread of the pandemic.

“We will treat public patients who are suffering from COVID-19 on a cost-recovery basis, in other words, not making any profit whatsoever.”

Friedland said they had to date spent R150 million to enhance their facilities’ readiness to treat COVID-19 cases.

“Purchasing ventilators, special UV light robots to disinfect our wards, special filtration filters and a whole myriad of equipment to make sure that we’re able to treat these patients but most importantly to ensure that our healthcare workers, our nurses and our doctors are kept safe.”

Price gouging a global problem

According to a recent Fin24 article, 11 firms are being investigated for selling products such as face masks and hand sanitisers at inflated prices amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced strict regulations to prevent businesses from hiking prices excessively for certain products – such as basic foods, personal care and hygiene products, as well as key medical supplies like surgical masks and gloves.

The firms will be investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted.

Penalties for flouting the regulations include:

  • R1 million in fine;
  • A fine of up to 10% of a company’s turnover; or
  • One year in jail.

An international problem

The problem of price gouging amid the Covid-19 crisis isn’t just a local one. The LA Times has reported that  Amazon has suspended more than 3 900 selling accounts in the US for violating its fair pricing policies.

This amounts to well over half a million offers, according to the online marketplace.
Amazon has subsequently deployed a team to identify and investigate “unfairly priced” products that are in high demand, such as protective masks and hand sanitiser.

Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody has issued more than 40 subpoenas because of alleged price gouging on “essential commodities” through accounts on Amazon.

By Fergal O’Brien for Bloomberg

The global economy is taking a hammering the likes of which has not been seen for years. With factories, stores and restaurants shut, aircraft grounded and travel restricted, the monthly Purchasing Managers Indexes from IHS Markit laid out the scale of the challenge. The US PMI, due later on Tuesday, is forecast to show sharp contractions.

The euro-area measure for manufacturing and services dropped to the lowest since the series began in 1998, as did the gauges for the UK and Australia. Japan’s composite index fell to the weakest since 2011, while measures for Germany and France also plunged.

“The near-term economic outlook is terrible,” said Stephen King, senior economic adviser at HSBC Holdings. “There should be no surprise about these numbers given what is going on and that they confirm what we knew from China earlier.”

The PMI may not even capture the full extent of the downturn, because of the way the hit to supply chains is distorting the results. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva warned on Monday that the global economy is facing a slump “at least as bad as during the global financial crisis or worse”.

In the UK, separate figures added to the bleak picture. The Confederation of British Industry said manufacturers’ orders books fell sharply, and companies anticipate a drop in output in the coming months.

Investor concern has sparked a panicked selloff in equity markets. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index has fallen more than 30% in the past month, effectively wiping out almost seven years of gains. The S&P 500 is at the lowest since 2016.

The airline industry is among the worst hit, and companies including Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa have been forced to ground thousands of planes. Countless jobs are at risk because of closures, while manufacturing has also been disrupted by national lockdowns.

Warnings about the depth of the slump having been coming almost daily.

At the weekend, Morgan Stanley said that US gross domestic product could fall at an annual rate of 30% in the second quarter, driving up unemployment to average 12.8%. Federal Reserve policy maker James Bullard offered an even worse prediction that the jobless rate could rise to 30%.

Bloomberg Economics says the global economy will shrink almost 2% year-on-year in the first half, with the euro-area suffering the worst back to back quarterly contractions in its history. While a pickup is expected later this year, “a lot needs to go right” for that to happen, according to Tom Orlik, BE chief economist.

Just hours before the euro-area PMI, Goldman Sachs Group said the region’s economy could shrink more than 11% quarter-on-quarter in the three months through June.

Central banks are continuing their firefight, with almost 40 interest-rate cuts last week alone.

The Fed unexpectedly announced more huge measures on Monday, saying it will buy unlimited amounts of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities to keep borrowing costs at rock-bottom levels. Both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank have also announced huge expansions of their asset-purchase programmes.

Microsoft launches coronavirus tracker

Source: Economic Times

As the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) spreads like wildfire across countries, Microsoft’s Bing team has launched a web portal to track its progress worldwide.

The website provides up-to-date infection statistics for each country. An interactive map allows users to click on the country to see the specific number of cases and related articles from a variety of publishers.

You can view the interactive map here.

According to sources, data is being aggregated from sources like the World Health Organisation (WHO), the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Microsoft announced the website two days after US President Donald Trump said Google had begun working on COVID-19-related portal for US citizens.

Google’s website is being built by Verily, a subsidiary of Alphabet focused on healthcare services.

“More than 1 700 engineers are currently working on the site,” Trump said during a press briefing last week.

The tool will triage people who are concerned about their COVID-19 risk into testing sites based on guidance from public health officials and test availability.

Globally, the virus has now affected 216 030 people, and has caused 8 891 deaths.

The number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus causing Covid-19 has gone up to 116 in South Africa.

On Sunday 15 March, President Ramaphosa announced a number of strict measures in order to curb the spread of the virus.

Social distancing and self-isolating are key aspects of the attempts to flatten the curve; however, these measures are having increasingly negative impacts on businesses both locally and globally.

The National Small Business Chamber has provided a number of strategies for brick-and-mortar businesses to stay relevant during this time:

  • Communicate openly with your customers and they will likely empathise during this time. Inform them of the steps you’re taking to mitigate risk within your business and the community at large
  • Offer alternatives to in-store visitations, such as online delivery or teleconferencing
  • If you do greet your customers in person, smile and wave, fist-bump, foot-tap or elbow-knock rather than shaking hands
  • When communicating about the Covid-19 virus make sure you get your facts from a reliable source. Don’t spread false news and add to the panic. Spreading fake news about the virus is now punishable by law in South Africa
  • Let customers know what you’re doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Send an email outlining the steps you have taken, or post signage in your stores. Offer your clients and staff hand sanitiser or disinfectant soap so that they can clean their hands as often as possible
  • Increase your social media presence. Customers are checking in much more frequently to get the latest updates on the virus, so it may be helpful to increase your posting frequency to ensure you are showing up in their newsfeeds. Make sure you are not forgotten
  • Offer online deals to remind customers that they can still shop for their favourite items on your website. It might even help to offer a coupon or discount to encourage online shopping, as most people are now staying at home
  • Service-based businesses like restaurants or salons may want to consider offering online sales of gift certificates. This will help maintain sales, while giving your customers something to look forward to
  • Minimise spending on items which are not critical for the operation of your business. It is time to cut down on the nice-to-haves and rather focus on the bare essentials. This will help to make your business run as efficiently as possible
  • Assist your customers through digital channels. Increase your customer service capabilities and ensure your customers can reach you, no matter where they are
  • Strategise with your team and create a contingency plan. Look critically at your business and make a business continuity plan. Use this time to think of innovative ways to get your product or service into the hands of your clients
  • Institute remote working, if possible, or some degree of flexi-time
  • Advise those who are showing the symptoms to stay home and self-isolate for 14 days
  • Consider how you will handle absenteeism and think about how you will communicate if people get sick. Try to be as understanding as possible and have a contingency plan in case you suddenly become short-staffed
  • Don’t panic!

Beware of these corona-related scams

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) has warned bank clients that cybercriminals are exploiting the current “Coronamania” panic to spread Coronavirus scams.

Coronavirus scams exploit people’s concerns for their health and safety and pressure them into being tricked using social engineering. Social Engineering is manipulative and exploits human vulnerability because criminals know that the weakest link in the information security chain is the human being.

These new scams include spoofed emails offering products such as masks, or fake offerings of vaccines, leading to phishing websites. These emails come from seemingly realistic and reputable companies which manipulate people into clicking on links. Some of these websites prompt the user for personal information which ending up in the hands of cybercriminals.

Cybercriminals are also using SMS Phishing, more commonly known as SMishing, to trick victims into clicking on a link disguised as information on a Coronavirus breakout in their area to steal their credentials. Some of these texts claim to provide free masks or pretend to be companies that have experienced delays in deliveries due to the Coronavirus.

Once criminals have the correct level of confidential information about a victim’s bank account, they can impersonate the victim and transact using the correct credentials but without authority.

“Although some spoofed emails can be difficult to identify, we urge bank clients to think twice before clicking on any link, even if an email looks legitimate. Any suspicious emails should not be opened and are best deleted,” says SABRIC acting CEO, Susan Potgieter.

SABRIC urges bank clients to take note of the following tips to protect themselves:

Phishing and SMishing

  • Do not click on links or icons in unsolicited emails
  • Never reply to these emails. Delete them immediately
  • Do not believe the content of unsolicited emails blindly. If you are concerned about what is being alleged in the email, use your own contact details to contact the sender and confirm
  • Check that you are on the authentic/real site before entering any personal information
  • Do not click on links or icons in unsolicited SMSs
  • Do not reply to these SMSs. Delete them immediately
  • Do not believe the content of unsolicited SMSs blindly. If you are worried about what is alleged, use your own contact details to contact the sender to confirm
  • Regard urgent security alerts, offers or deals as warning signs of a hacking attempt

Covid-19: SA in shutdown

On Sunday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a number of strict measures to help reduce the spread of coronavirus in South Africa.

The highlights of his address are as follows:

  • A National State of Disaster has been declared
  • A travel ban from foreign nationals from high-risk countries will be implemented from Wednesday 18 March
  • SA citizens are advised to refrain from travel to or through high-risk countries. These are currently listed as Iran, China, South Korea, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, the UK and the USA. This is updated regularly
  • SA citizens returning from high-risk countries will undergo additional testing at ports of entry, and must self-isolate for 14 days
  • All foreign nationals who entered South Africa from high-risk areas must be tested. This applies to those who travelled from mid-February onwards
  • 35 land ports and two seaports will be closed
  • Non-essential travel is prohibited for all spheres of government
  • Gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited. This includes concerts, sport events and celebrations
  • Schools will be closed from 18 March until after the Easter weekend. Creches and universities are expected to follow suit
  • Visits to all correctional facilities have been suspended for the next 30 days
  • All businesses must take measures to intensify hygiene control, and where possible workers are to be asked to work remotely
  • All shopping centres must take measures to intensify hygiene control
  • The capacity of health centres is being increased nationally
  • A national command council has been established, meeting three times a week, chaired by the President
  • Cabinet is working with the private sector to finalise a package of varying fiscal measures to prevent economic collapse

All citizens of South Africa are called upon to do the following:

  • Wash hands with soap or similar for 20 seconds. Do this regularly, especially after going out in public and touching typically dirty surfaces (e.g. hand rails, money, door handles, elevator buttons)
  • Sneeze or cough into the crook of the elbow, or into a tissue which is immediately discarded. Wash hands thereafter
  • Avoid close contact with those who have flu-like symptoms
  • Avoid shaking hands and hugging, and try to keep a one-metre distance from other people in public
  • Avoid spreading fake news. Check all your facts before sharing information
  • Avoid panic-buying, especially of items (e.g. gloves and sanitizers) needed by medically vulnerable populations in society
  • Practice social distancing. This involves staying within the confines of the home and avoiding going into public unless absolutely necessary
  • Quarantining / self-isolating for 14 days is necessary for all those experiencing flu-like symptoms. Seek testing should the following symptoms persist:
    • Fever
    • Dry cough
    • Sore throat
    • Breathing difficulties
  • Limit all forms of travel and social gatherings where possible
  • Where possible, avoid public transport
  • Where possible, work remotely and conduct meetings via digital platforms
  • If you believe you have Covid-19, you can:
    • E-mail the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) on cicc1@dirco.gov.za or cicc2@dirco.gov.za
    • Call DIRCO on 012 351 1754
    • WhatsApp 0600 123 456 and say “Hi”, and then follow the prompts
    • Call the National Coronavirus Hotline on 0800 029 999
    • Phone your GP and ask for advice
    • It is NOT recommended that you go to a medical facility without phoning ahead. This will prevent the spread of the virus, or your exposure to the virus

By Aisha Abdool Karim & Joan van Dyk for Bhekisisa

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases can run hundreds of tests at the same time but ultimately the number of tests South Africa will be able to carry out for the new coronavirus depends on the machines, people and testing supplies available.

Seven South Africans have tested positive for the new coronavirus, dubbed SARS-CoV-2 by scientists. There’s still no reason to panic. But if you are feeling sick, here’s all the information you need to take the next steps.

Who should get tested?
The virus SARS-CoV-2 causes coronavirus disease 2019, also known as COVID-19. People with COVID-19 have symptoms including cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or fever — but these can also be signs of the flu.

You should only get tested if you have symptoms and have also done one of the following, says the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD):

  • Been in contact with someone who has COVID-19;
  • Have travelled to a country where you have a high risk of getting infected. The NICD currently lists the following countries as high risk: China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Italy and Iran but this list is updated regularly. For the most recent information, go here;
  • Have worked in or been to a healthcare facility treating people with COVID-19;
  • Have a severe case of pneumonia with an unknown cause.

What does testing involve?
A healthcare worker collects samples from, for instance, your nose, throat and lungs before sending them off for testing. They collect the samples in a few ways, explain the latest NICD guidelines. Patients could be asked to do a deep cough and spit phlegm into a container for testing. In other cases, a healthcare worker might wipe your nose, mouth, or the back of your throat with what looks like a giant earbud. The sample is then put into a tube and sent to the lab.

Testing of samples takes 24 hours, people can expect results after 48 hours. This applies to tests conducted at both the NICD laboratory and the private Lancet Laboratories.

According to the NICD guidelines, if someone tests positive, this will be confirmed with another test. If that diagnostic comes back negative, then the test will be repeated to verify the result. This kind of repeat testing means it can take up to 48 hours to definitely detect a case of COVID-19.

If a person initially tests negative, then follow-up diagnostics are only done if the person begins to show symptoms or if the samples were of poor quality.

How does the test work?
After lab technicians have the sample, they’ll test it with a quantitative polymerase chain reaction machine, which looks a lot like a photocopier. It kind of acts like one too, De Oliveira says. The machine creates thousands of copies of the virus’ genes if it’s present in the patient sample. The results will show both whether the sample is infected with SARS-CoV-2 and how much of it is present, he says.

These machines are widely available in South Africa and the NICD says they can test hundreds of samples at a time.

If the result is positive for the virus, scientists move on to a second machine – a DNA sequencer, which unravels the whole genetic code of the virus’s DNA — this is the first step in helping scientists track the spread of the virus both locally and globally.

For instance, researchers can plug the virus’ genetic map into a free, web-based programme designed by international teams from Belgium, Brazil and South Africa’s KRISP unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. KRISP is a gene sequencing research organisation based at the university.

The software allows scientists to compare it with a database of similar samples from 10 types of coronavirus including the SARS-CoV-2.

Tulio De Oliveira is a bioinformatician from KRISP who led the development of the tool.

“It has three uses,” he explains “to quickly and accurately characterize new coronavirus genomes, to understand the source of the outbreak, and to identify mutations of the virus.”

The NICD is watching the changes in the virus carefully, says spokesperson Sinenhlanhla Jimoh.

Monitoring how a virus changes can help researchers develop treatments or vaccines for the newest coronavirus, De Oliveira says.

“So far, SARS-CoV-2 is spreading very fast [globally], but it hasn’t changed that much.”

He explains: “The small changes that have occurred have not made any difference on how the virus behaves, or how easily it spreads.

Where should you go for a test?
If you think you might have contracted the virus, you should call the NICD helpline on 0800 029 999. They will advise you where the closest public or private facility is for you to go for a test and how to access the facility.

What happens if I test positive for COVID-19?
Anyone who tests positive will be put in isolation at one of the hospitals designated to respond to the outbreak. You’ll remain there until tests show you no longer have the virus.

The NICD will then trace people who have been in close contact with the confirmed case. Anyone who could have come in contact with the patient in the week before they began to feel sick will be self-quarantined at home for 14 days. This group includes everyone from family to health workers who may have seen them. The NICD will closely monitor them for any of the symptoms of COVID-19.

How much does it cost, and what does medical aid cover?
Public sector testing is completely free. But as of 9 March, Lancet Laboratories announced that it would also be processing COVID-19 tests from private doctors for R1 400 — how much of this cost you will have to cover yourself depends on your medical aid scheme.

Discovery Health Medical Scheme will cover the costs of a test if you are found to be positive, if the result is negative, then you will pay for the diagnostic with medical savings.

The Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS), which covers more 70 000 South Africans, announced it would also pay for tests and treatments for the virus.

“We encourage medical schemes to provide comprehensive cover for all confirmed cases, in the interest of public health,” head of the Council for Medical Schemes Sipho Kabane said in a statement.

Kabane advised that people test at government laboratories.

By Phillip Inman for The Guardian

The coronavirus could cost the global economy more than $1tn in lost output if it turns into a pandemic, according to a leading economic forecaster.

Oxford Economics warned that the spread of the virus to regions outside Asia would knock 1.3% off global growth this year, the equivalent of $1.1tn in lost income.

The consultancy said its model of the global economy showed the virus was already having a “chilling effect” as factory closures in China spilled over to neighbouring countries and major companies struggled to source components and finished goods from the far east.

Apple told investors earlier this week that it would fail to meet its quarterly revenue target because of the “temporarily constrained” supply of iPhones and a dramatic drop in Chinese spending during the virus crisis.

Carmaker Jaguar Land Rover, adding its voice to a chorus of companies complaining about supply problems, said it could run out of car parts at its British factories by the end of next week if the coronavirus continued to prevent parts arriving from China.

Oxford Economics said it expected China’s GDP growth to fall from 6% last year to 5.4% in 2020 following the spread of the virus so far. But if it spreads more widely in Asia, world GDP would fall by $400bn in 2020, or 0.5%.

If the virus spreads beyond Asia and becomes a global pandemic, world GDP would drop $1.1tn, or 1.3% compared to the current projection. A $1.1tn decline would be the same as losing the entire annual output of Indonesia, the world’s 16th largest economy.

“Our scenarios see world GDP hit as a result of declines in discretionary consumption and travel and tourism, with some knock-on financial market effects and weaker investment,” it said.

Rival consultancy Capital Economics said the situation in China was still developing and it remained unclear how long before the quarantine rules across much of China’s central belt would lead to mass job layoffs and wage cuts becoming more widespread.

It said 85% of larger stock market-listed firms had enough funds to meet their liabilities and wage bills formore than six months without any further revenue.

But thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, which are responsible for half of urban jobs, “may not heed government orders not to shed jobs”.

A survey of 1,000 SMEs conducted by two Chinese universities found that unless conditions improved, one-third of the firms would run out of cash within a month, the consultancy said.

Another survey of 700 companies found that 40% of private firms would run out of cash within three months.

The firm’s Asia analyst, Julian Evans Pritchard, said: “Our best guess is that there is still a window of another week or so during which, if economic activity rebounds, the bulk of employees including at vulnerable SMEs would probably keep their jobs.

“And with large-scale layoffs avoided, consumer spending would bounce back quickly due to pent-up demand, which in turn would help the self-employed and family-run businesses to recoup much of their recent loss of income.

“But with each day that the disruption drags on, the risk of a protracted slump in output rises. If activity is not clearly rebounding by the end of next week, we will revisit our annual growth forecasts.

Oxford Economics said it still expected the impact of the virus to be limited to China and have a significant, but short-term impact, bringing world GDP growth just 0.2% lower than January at 2.3%.

But a pandemic would cause a deeper and more profound shock over the next six months, possibly equal to a $1.1tn loss, followed by a recovery that would make up some of the ground lost earlier in the year.

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