Only a vaccine will stop the spread of the virus which has already killed more than 114 000 worldwide, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The organisation said the coronavirus was 10 times more deadly than swine flu, also called H1N1, which caused a global pandemic in 2009.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said new data from around the world was ‘giving us a clearer picture about this virus, how it behaves, how to stop it and how to treat it’.
‘We know that COVID-19 spreads fast, and we know that it is deadly – 10 times deadlier than the 2009 flu pandemic,’ Dr Tedros said at a briefing in Geneva yesterday.
Covid-19 has claimed two more lives in South Africa, bringing the total to 27. Positive cases now stand at 2 272. Some 83 600 South Africans have been tested.
While the Democratic Alliance presented its alternative ‘smart phase strategy’ for the lockdown regulations – envisaging a range of options, from red to orange to yellow and to green, where ‘red’ is the hardest lockdown, and ‘green’, with social distancing compulsory throughout – pointed questions arose yesterday over the information flow from the government on the Covid-19 threat and South Africa’s preparedness for tackling it.
News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson accused the government of ‘treating information like cigarettes or booze’, as a non-essential.
There was ‘currently a critical failure of information sharing and communication about the virus at all spheres of government’, he wrote.
He paid particular attention to ‘a key piece of data’ revealed on Friday night during a presentation by Dr Anban Pillay, acting director-general of the health department, to Parliament’s health portfolio committee’, noting that ‘the presentation was posted in a health department WhatsApp group for journalists, but quickly deleted by the minister’s spokesperson’.
‘The presentation clearly suggests that the lockdown was extended by two weeks to give the government more time to procure ventilators and personal protective equipment to prepare for an inevitable health crisis at the end of winter. Neither (President Cyril) Ramaphosa, nor (Health Minister Zweli) Mkhize have explained this to the nation. Why not?’
Basson wrote: ‘It is clear from the health department’s own research that the outbreak and its devastating impact will be with us for many months to come. Information is an essential ingredient to successfully fighting Covid-19. We need an urgent solution to this harmful impasse.’
Other key findings in Pillay’s presentation include:
- In a worst-case scenario, Gauteng would see over 1.5 million Covid-19 infections at the end of winter, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with one million;
- The country has less than half the number of ventilators needed to deal with peak infection. Public and private hospitals currently have a total of 3 216 ventilators, compared to the 7 000 we need, and
- The country currently has 4 909 critical care hospital beds available, but the need for beds in intensive care units could exceed 14 700 at the highest level of infection.
News24 reported that the government’s ‘readiness for worst case scenario’ plan was informed by research from UCT’s Modelling and Simulation Hub Africa. According to this scenario, if the lockdown was suspended this Thursday after three weeks, the peak would have hit the country around 18 August.
The news site said the presidency did not respond to questions for comment on Friday and Saturday.
In other virus-related news
- European countries have seen steep rises in cases and deaths, but slowing infection rates are raising hopes that strict social distancing measures are curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Italy has the highest toll outside the United States, with nearly 20 000 deaths so far, but recent data suggests the infection rate is slowing. Spain’s death toll is not far behind, on 17 500 – the third-highest of any country;
- Wearing facial protection will soon become normal, according to the WHO Covid-19 spokesman David Nabarro. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that people had to come to terms with the new reality of living with the virus;
- More than 2 550 new cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Russia in the past 24 hours – the country’s largest daily rise in infections so far. About 11 500 of the 18 328 people infected have been in the capital Moscow. There have been 148 recorded deaths;
- Residents in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, have been forced to keep the bodies of their relatives in their homes, sometimes for days, with authorities unable to keep up with the need to remove them; and
- World renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma has been posting a series of mini-performances from home during the global lockdown. His latest is Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No 1, which he said had ‘seen me through times of stress, loss, joy, and transition’. The cellist has been posting his so-called #songsofcomfort since mid-March.