The World Health Organization warned yesterday that the Covid-19 pandemic was entering a ‘new and dangerous’ phase.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there were some 150 000 new cases on Thursday alone, half of them in the Americas and large numbers in the Middle East and South Asia.

He warned that the virus was still spreading fast and the pandemic accelerating.

Tedros acknowledged people might be fed up with self-isolating and that countries were eager to open their economies, but he said that now was a time for extreme vigilance, according to a BBC report.

Maria van Kerkhove, technical lead of the WHO’s Covid-19 response, told a press conference the pandemic was ‘accelerating in many parts of the world’.

‘While we have seen countries have some success in suppressing transmission and bringing transition down to a low level, every country must remain ready,’ she said.

Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said some countries had managed to flatten the peak of infections without bringing them down to a very low level.

‘You can see a situation in some countries where they could get a second peak now, because the disease has not been brought under control. The disease will then go away and reduce to a low level, and they could then get a second wave again in the autumn or later in the year.’

The warning came as South Africa’s cases rose to 87 715 (with 47 825 recoveries), and the toll to 1 831.

Last night, the government gazetted regulations to allow hairdressers, barbers, beauty therapists, masseurs and tattoo and piercing artists to reopen with immediate effect – but under strict public health protocols, such as wearing protective clothing.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa was in a position to immediately offer patients dexamethasone, saying that the department had some 300 000 ampoules (dosage units) in stock. The steroid, found to be effective in curbing deaths in seriously ill patients, was manufactured locally.

He said the Ministerial Advisory Committee had recommended the drug, or similar medication, for patients on ventilators.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced that the Department of Transport had allocated relief of more than R1 billion to the taxi industry. The sum was intended as ‘assistance’ to the industry, not as compensation for revenue losses during the lockdown.

Business Insider reported that, with applications for R3.2 billion in coronavirus payouts to more than 725 000 workers still left unpaid, employers and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) ‘are at loggerheads about who’s to blame’.

Workers who are put on leave, have been laid off temporarily, or whose employers can’t afford to pay their full salaries due to the coronavirus crisis are entitled to Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) payouts.

The report said the UIF was blaming employees for not submitting the right information as part of their applications, while businesses said workers were not being paid due to UIF ineptitude.

Rob Legh, chairperson of the law firm Bowmans, on behalf of Business for South Africa (B4SA), an organisation convened amid the crisis, was quoted as saying: ‘We are perturbed at the suggestion that employers should carry the blame for employees not receiving their TERS benefits timeously, when the administrative system has proven so grossly unreliable.’

In other virus-related news

  • A study published by the journal Nature Medicine said people who developed coronavirus-fighting antibodies might not keep them very long, especially if they didn’t have symptoms. After just a few months, recovered coronavirus patients may rapidly lose antibodies, the study found;
  • The Financial Times reported the UK government’s debt exceeded the size of the UK economy in May for the first time in more than 50 years as borrowing surged to pay for coronavirus-mitigation measures. It said that in a set of public finance statistics that ‘broke many records’, gross central government debt exceeded £2tr for the first time ever in May. The figures showed the level of public borrowing to be on course to end the financial year about £300bn in the red, twice as bad as the worst year in the global financial crisis of 2008-09;
  • Chinese officials say a coronavirus strain in an outbreak in Beijing may have come from Europe; and
  • Globally, there are almost 8.5 million cases and more than 453 000 have died.

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