The State of Disaster could be lifted next week, according to Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, but it’s unclear whether the new draft regulations will replace the previously released proposals or complement them.

he government wants to lift the State of Disaster by 5 April following the gazetting of new regulations aimed at guiding the country’s ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma announced in a press conference on Tuesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet has been under significant pressure from business groups, opposition parties and healthcare experts to lift the two-year State of Disaster, which has been criticised as a burden on the country’s economic recovery and unnecessary in ongoing efforts to prevent hospitalisations and deaths.

 

Ramaphosa last week announced his intention to end the State of Disaster around 16 April, after the one month available for public comments on proposed amendments to the National Health Act closed.

On Tuesday, Dlamini Zuma said new draft regulations would be released to manage the response to Covid-19 once the State of Disaster is lifted. They had not been released at the time of writing.

The minister said the public could submit comments on the new regulations for 48 hours, after which the comments would be analysed and, the government hopes, the State of Disaster could be lifted.

It’s unclear whether the new draft regulations will replace the previously released proposals or complement them. Dlamini Zuma’s spokesperson, Lungi Mtshali, did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s also unclear how the government plans to move forward with such a narrow window for public comments on the new regulations while a month was allotted for public comments on the proposals under the National Health Act.

The minister said the new regulations, which would be gazetted and released on Tuesday, made provision for the wearing of masks in indoor public spaces, limitations on gatherings, physical distancing requirements and rules for travellers coming to South Africa.

Ramaphosa outlined the same regulations during his speech last week. He emphasised that the end of the State of Disaster did not signal an end to the fight against Covid-19, suggesting some form of regulations would stay in place in the near future. Dlamini Zuma, however, said the regulations would only last 30 days after they were introduced.

“Though the pandemic is not yet over, it was the desire of government for the country, as much as it is possible, to return to normality, but in a manner that recognises the changing nature of the pandemic,” said Dlamini Zuma.

She defended the State of Disaster, which has been repeatedly extended. “If you look at how we have done through the two years and look at how other countries also have done and compare what happened here now and what happened during the Spanish flu, I think, yes, it was necessary because I think we would have experienced many more deaths if we hadn’t [imposed the State of Disaster].”

Cilliers Brink from the DA welcomed the government’s “climbdown” but remained cautious about future regulations. 

“We are deeply concerned that this is only a tactical concession, and that the government intends to hang on to lockdown powers by using national health regulations,” said Brink.

The DA had filed court papers to challenge the extension of the State of Disaster. The trade union Solidarity had also approached the courts and its case is due to be heard on 5 April, the same day Dlamini Zuma said she hopes the State of Disaster is lifted.

Other political parties were also critical. Speaking on the SABC, Cope’s Dennis Bloem said the minister’s press conference was unnecessary and a waste of time.

The IFP’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa said Dlamini Zuma’s address was a “tautology” of Ramaphosa’s earlier address and that the proposed regulations mean “more or less the same, whether it is under a State of Disaster or not”.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa tweeted: “This is rubbish, it’s creating a permanent State of Disaster scenario. All they’ve done is transfer provisions in the disaster of management act into the Health Act!”

The new Covid-19 regulations published under the National Health Act have been criticised as an attempt by the government to maintain the wide powers it received under the State of Disaster. They allow authorities to impose curfews, mask mandates and limit the distribution and consumption of alcohol. They also introduce new self-isolation and quarantine regulations, which have been criticised as incoherent and illogical

Source - DM

The solidarity of the human family is fracturing.

We see it all around us. We see it in the comprehensively inadequate efforts by many rich countries to tackle the climate crisis. We see it in the failed response to the crippling debt crisis faced by the world’s poorest countries.

But the pandemic has shown us that countries – especially those from the Asian continent and across the Global South – can powerfully unite in common cause for the betterment of all of humanity.

India and South Africa have courageously led a group of over a hundred nations, demanding the rights to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, at the World Trade Organization (WTO). By doing so, India and South Africa have asserted that there is something profoundly wrong about a handful of rich nations and their pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Moderna getting to decide who lives and who dies across the world. They, too, have asserted that developing countries must not be a second-class partner in global affairs: but be able to take control of their own destiny.

Significant progress has been made in 18 months. Some advanced economies such as the US and Australia also came on board, agreeing in principle, recognising that extreme vaccine inequity is bad for the world.

But now all that progress is being put to the test, in decisions that will be taken in the next few days.

The European Union (EU) has been the world’s “biggest roadblock“, as former Irish president Mary Robinson described, to the developing world’s efforts to agree a suspension of intellectual property rules on COVID-19 vaccines and technologies at the WTO. 

For two years, the EU has actively protected the hyper-profitable pharmaceutical monopolies held over COVID-19 vaccines technologies – even while over a hundred capable manufacturers could have been making them. The global public health leader and executive director of UNAIDS Winnie Byanyima has argued that had such steps been taken, we may have ended the pandemic by now.

But finally, after huge pressure from countries and people around the world, the EU is at the table. It says it is ready to compromise. It has put this to South Africa and India and other countries. Sadly, it is far from an adequate compromise. This is not a TRIPS waiver. After millions of avoidable deaths from COVID-19 and with infections rates soaring once again across our continent, agreeing to it would indeed not be a genuine compromise, but instead a gift for the EU and their pharmaceutical corporations. 

There are some positives. The fact that the EU is finally recognising, after nearly two years, that pharmaceutical monopolies are a problem is a step forward. Moreover, the EU driven proposal allows for a partial waiver of restrictions on vaccine exports for generic manufacturers. 

But the barriers that remain are inexcusably enormous and, if the objective is to increase and diversify vaccine manufacturing, the EU has failed to deliver. Most fundamentally, the EU-led compromise still denies developing countries and manufacturers essential information necessary to make COVID-19 vaccines. This includes manufacturing know-how, equipment, ingredients, and other information locked up as trade secrets, other forms of intellectual property and other fortresses of commercial confidentiality.

The so-called compromise only relates to vaccines despite desperate and extreme inequality in access to COVID-19 tests and treatments that could be saving lives now, especially in countries where the vaccines are not. And, inexplicably in the midst of a global health crisis, much of the world would be locked out of the agreement, including countries exporting more than 10% of the global vaccine supply, but also, as things stand, the poorest countries and non WTO members. 

Perhaps most shameful of all is that far from lifting barriers, the EU has added more.

These include an onerous and nigh on impossible requirement to identify and list all patents related to a vaccine. With 280 components for the mRNA vaccines alone the patent landscape can be incredibly complex and contested; much of the information required may not even be in the public domain. Importantly for India, such patent listing is not a requirement of Indian law and endorsing it would therefore constitute a retrograde step for the nation. 

We recognise some seeds of progress here. But the shallowness of this compromise is deadly.

After an estimated 20 million lives have been lost to COVID-19, at a time in which COVID-19 has killed four times more people in the poorest countries than rich countries, we must ask: is this really the best that the rich world can offer? 

Source : The WIRE

South Africa has changed its Covid-19 vaccination rules in an effort to encourage more people to get jabs, health authorities said on Monday.

Inoculations have slowed and the country — which has recorded more than 98,000 deaths and more than 3.6 million positive Covid-19 cases in total in the pandemic — has ample vaccine stocks.

The government is shortening the interval between the first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine from 42 to 21 days and will allow people who have received two doses of Pfizer to get a booster dose three months after their second shot as opposed to six months previously.

It will also offer the option of “mixing and matching” booster jabs, with adults who were given one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) vaccine being offered either a J&J or Pfizer booster two months after their J&J shot. Adults who received two doses of Pfizer will be allowed J&J as well as Pfizer as a third dose.

“The decision regarding which vaccine to administer as a booster should be guided by vaccine availability,” the health department said in a statement.

South Africa has recorded the most coronavirus infections and deaths on the African continent.

It has so far fully vaccinated 28 per cent of its roughly 60 million population, or 42 per cent of its 40 million adults. That is a far greater percentage than many other African countries but well short of government targets.

Its vaccination campaign, using the J&J and Pfizer vaccines, got off to a slow start due to difficulties securing early supplies but more recently it has been dogged by hesitancy.

Also on Monday, a government adviser on Covid-19 treatments shed further light on a recommendation that the state should not buy Merck & Co’s pill molnupiravir for now, despite the health regulator authorising its use.

Jeremy Nel, head of the infectious diseases division at the University of the Witwatersrand, told Reuters that the National Essential Medicines List Committee had given molnupiravir a “conditional no” on the basis that the cost would be substantial and benefits relatively small.

“It’s not a magic bullet that is going to solve Covid,” Nel said of molnupiravir.

Pfizer’s treatment pill Paxlovid was going to become available and had shown greater efficacy, Nel said. The committee is reviewing evidence on Paxlovid and should come up with a recommendation for government within weeks.

South Africa’s decision to steer away from buying molnupiravir comes after France cancelled its order following disappointing trial data. France hopes to get Paxlovid instead.

Source - Khaleej Times

Botswana will allow unvaccinated travelers into the country, provided they produce a negative COVID-19 test result. That’s a reversal from last month, when the nation started denying entry to travelers who were partially vaccinated or unvaccinated and not willing to get a free shot.

Botswana Ministry of Health spokesperson Christopher Nyanga said in a statement the decision to allow the unvaccinated into the country was meant to ensure smooth entry for travelers.

“I wish to indicate that these changes now allow partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people to enter the country, if they comply with the required testing requirements,” he said. “It is only when one is not fully vaccinated and is also not willing to undergo COVID-19 testing at the port of entry, that they will be charged and fined or taken to a court of law.”

There was confusion over what determined a fully vaccinated person. In Botswana, the vaccine validity period is 180 days, while Europe gives the same vaccines a 270-day validity period.

Nyanga says the vaccine validity discord was taken into consideration when dropping the vaccine mandate.

“Due to discordant periods for taking booster shots between Botswana and other countries, and for purposes of smoothening international travel, the definition of being fully vaccinated in Botswana will no longer include a booster shot,” he said. “Having completed the primary vaccine series will be considered sufficient for one to be allowed entry, without the need to present a negative PCR test result.”

Cindy Kelemi , director of the human rights organization Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV-AIDS, welcomed the government’s move.

“We have always maintained that the response to COVID-19 does not necessarily require for criminalization to be used as a strategy,” she said. “And not allowing entry to those who are not vaccinated is actually a violation of people’s rights. Therefore, it was only reasonable for the government to retract its previous guidelines and remove the barring of people who are not vaccinated, into Botswana."

Since the introduction of vaccine mandates on Feb. 14, Botswana’s tourism industry says, it has suffered huge losses, with canceled bookings worth $10 million.

A tour guide in the Okavango Delta, Keletso Sedume, said he expects the situation to improve now that COVID-19 entry requirements have been eased.

"It is good news as there was a drop of tourists coming to the delta in the last few weeks,” he said. “We heard it is because some were reluctant to vaccinate and had canceled their bookings. We hope to see them come in now."

Botswana authorities say they have vaccinated more than 71% of the adult population, which is one of the highest vaccination rates on the continent.

Source - VOA