COVID-19 quick insights from 29 April

SA sees single largest jump in coronavirus in a single day as confirmed infections hit 5,350 and deaths rise to 103. Government makes about turn on cigarette sales under Level 4, and Basic Education Department reveals draft plan for the resumption of schooling.

© erika8213/123rf.com

CAPE TOWN - SA sees single largest jump in coronavirus in a single day as confirmed infections hit 5,350 and deaths rise to 103. Govt makes about turn on cigarette sales under Level 4, and Basic Education Department reveals draft plan for the resumption of schooling.

DAY 33 OF LEVEL 5 LOCKDOWN

BY THE NUMBERS

• 5,350 Confirmed infections since the virus first arrived in SA – this represents the largest jump in a single day, with 354 cases being recorded in the last 24 hours.

• Another 10 deaths recorded though, bringing the total to 103.

• Number of patients tested now stands at 197,127 - an increase of more than 11,000 tests in 24 hours.

• That’s also the single highest number of tests in one day – it's a positive sign as the testing capacity ramps up.

• Concern over numbers in the Western Cape – positive cases have almost doubled day-to-day, with 264 confirmed new cases today. The province has the highest positivity yield from tests in the past 24 hours – with 7.5% of tests conducted coming up positive (that’s almost double the national yield Minister Zweli Mkhize referenced on Tuesday). The Western Cape contributed to 75% of the total new cases nationally, but only accounted for 30% of total tests over the same period.

• Globally, more than 3,170,000 people have tested positive since the virus first emerged in the city of Wuhan, 225,000 have died, and the number listed as recovered is closing in on the million mark.

ALLLLLLL THE REGULATIONS: LEVEL FOUR

CIGARETTES. THE HOPE. THE EXPECTATION. THE REVERSAL. THE ANGUISH...

• Cigarettes – a stunning reversal – the president said cigarettes would be sold but when the regulations were gazetted, cigarettes are prohibited items for sale under Level 4.

• Cue howls of protest, and a meltdown from pretty much every journo on the government WhatsApp groups.

• Once again for the cheap seats: NO CIGARETTES WILL BE SOLD UNDER LEVEL 4.

• It’s rare that a president is allowed to promise something, only to have to do a complete 180 days later (Donald Trump doesn’t count – ‘cause he does it as a matter of course).

• So what informed the reversal? It's not entirely clear but COgta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma proudly referenced the 2,000 submissions they received during the public participation process (they got more than 70,000 submissions in total), calling into question government’s decision to allow the sale under Level 4.

• Called upon to explain the reversal, Dlamini-Zuma went on a long riff about zol and skyf (you seriously can’t make this stuff up), and the tendency for people to share zol and skyf, thereby creating the perfect opportunity for spreading the virus.

• Jackson Mthembu went on to explain that this is a “listening government”, and that they had listened to the concerns of the 2,000, as well as concerns from clinicians and health authorities around the general health effects of smoking and they reassessed accordingly.

• A point here – cigarettes undeniably do damage to the lungs, and quitting is always a good idea. But if someone’s been smoking for a while, the damage to their lungs is done, given the fact that it takes months and years for the lungs to get back to a healthy state post quitting, it seems forcing the issue for what could be just a few weeks is a little useless in the grand scheme of things.

• There are approximately 11 million smokers in South Africa, many of whom are about to go, or will soon go cold turkey. Be kind. And prepare for a wave of grumpy people.

EXERCISE

• At least there was no reversal on exercise. You can cycle run or walk, but under strict conditions (as promised).

• You can only exercise in your neighbourhood - only within 5km radius of your home.

• You can only exercise between 6am and 9am - we have yet to get answers to our questions around what informs this narrow time band, especially in densely populated areas this could lead to conditions that don’t exactly foster social distancing where a lot of people will be exercising in a limited space at the same time.

• No organised sports – no club runs, no organised groups, no impromptu soccer/cricket/touch rugby matches etc.

• You can use that exercise time to walk your dogs.

CURFEW

• Even if you are able to return to work under Level 4, you need to be back inside your home between 8pm and 5am.

• If you have a medical or security emergency you can leave your home during the curfew hours.

• If you are an essential services worker or a Level 4 worker, working a night shift, you can be out during the curfew hours, but you must have your permit.

• We’ve posed a lot of questions around the thinking behind the curfew – why impose it at all? – we have yet to get answers to those questions.

A ONE TIME OPPORTUNITY TO RETURN

• If you chose to spend the intial lockdown period in a different province, and you want to come home, you will have a once-off chance to come back. But then you will have to stay put. You'll need a permit for this - it is attached to the gazetted regulations.

• Similarly, if you sent your child to spend time with family in another province, your child can come back to you – but again, they will have to stay put once they get back. You'll need a permit for this - it is attached to the gazetted regulations.

CROSSING PROVINCIAL BORDERS

• Movement between provinces is still generally prohibited – except for funerals, and under the following circumstances.

• If you are commuting across provincial lines (for example, if you live just within in the Free State and work in Gauteng) and you can return to work under Level 4, you will be allowed to – but you will
need a permit (the permit is attached to the gazetted regulations).

• When schools go back, if there are children who live in one province and go to school in another, they will also need that permit.

TRANSPORT

• All the Level 5 regulations on capacity remain in place under Level 4.

• However busses and rail services will be opened up again.

• Relaxation on the transport of wine for export – to the ports – that wine can now move to the point of export.

GENERAL

• This is still lockdown – it's just lockdown with slight relaxations – you still need to stay home.

• You will have to wear a cloth facemask at all times – or a homemade cloth covering that covers your nose and mouth. You won’t be allowed on public transport without one, you won’t be allowed in public buildings without one.

• Confirmation – no alcohol will be sold.

• Restaurants can reopen, but only for delivery of food (no sit-in or take away), and only between 9am and 7pm.

• No hairdressers, nail technicians, beauticians etc will be allowed to work under Level 4.

• YOU MAY NOT evict anyone during this time, but you can apply for an eviction order, which, if granted, is automatically stayed, until the last day of Level 4 lockdown. So you can’t effect the eviction.

• Those who’ll be able to return to work under Level 4 will need permits (that permit is part of the gazette) - it will need a company stamp to be valid.

• Government wants back to work process to be measured and gradual, and there are extensive precautions businesses have to take under the regulations before they can return – these all form part of the gazetted regulations, an include a full written document with staged returns, risk mitigation etc, that must be ready for inspection if the Labour Department drops by.

PUBLIC SUBMISSIONS

• After the briefing on what Level 4 might look like on Saturday, government opened up a very brief window for public comments.

• They got more than 70,000 submissions.

• More than 800 from the business sector.

• More than 22,000 people made submissions around exercise.

• And a magical 2,000 made submissions on cigarettes, saying selling them was a bad idea.

SCHOOL’S GOING BACK!!

• We got our first glimpse into how schools will be returning – eventually.

• Like everything else with this lockdown, it’s a phased approach, it’s a draft plan - there is a formal briefing on Thursday where hopefully we’ll get further details.

• Here’s how the draft plan envisages it’s going to work:
- Teachers and principals go back to school next week
- On 18 May, grade 7s and grade 12s go back to school.

Then, in two weekly phases
- Grades 11 and 6 go back to school.
- Grades 10 and 5 go back to school.
- Grades 9 and 4 go back to school.
- Grades 8 and 3 go back to school.
- Grades 1 and 2 go back to school.
- Grade R goes back to school.

This basically means that parents with small kids will have to home school them until the mid- to end-of-July.

• The Health Department had presented an earlier timeline to the Portfolio committee, but right at the end of the briefing, the Deputy Minister clarified that going back to school on 6 May was simply not going to be possible.

• Grade 12s will be required to write the fully-fledged exams, covering the entire matric curriculum – mid-year and end-of-year exams will be merged and held in November/December and preparatory exams will be held in September.

• Results will only be released in mid-end January next year.

• There are several protocols in place to ensure schools remain as safe as possible: increased measures to ensure social distancing – so no more than 2 learners per desk, no hugging/handshaking or physical
contact; cloth masks at all times; no sports, choirs, school bands, plays etc will be allowed; extra classes must be in small groups in the interests of social distancing.

• School building sanitisation protocol - Schools will have to sanitise classrooms before the start of every school day; every kid will have to sanitise their hands as they enter the classroom; movement of kids between classes must be limited; no clustering of desks in classrooms.

• School transport protocols – busses must be sanitised before every trip; kids must sanitise their hands before getting on the bus, there must be distance between kids on the bus, masks must be worn throughout the school day – starting before they board transport.

• There are some non-negotiables for the reopening of schools – they must have basic sanitisation and health care packages, basic water and sanitation (pit latrine schools must have mobile toilet facilities in place); cleaners and screeners must be present, additional teaching posts will have to be introduced to deal with overcrowding – no more than 40 kids will be allowed in a class, mobile classrooms will need to be brought in where necessary.

HUMAN SETTLEMENTS AND WATER AND SANITATION UPDATES

• So the national department managed to pull a pretty big rabbit out of the hat, buying up thousands of water tanks at the beginning of the lockdown, to serve as water stations for thousands of communities across South Africa that have no access to running water.

• When the team briefed Parliament last week, they revealed they had delivered 16,224 of the tanks but only 9,223 of them have actually been installed and attached to a water source.

• Sisulu says the lockdown regulations were the biggest obstacle – with hardware shops unable to run, municipal workers couldn’t buy the cement, bricks and parts they needed to get the tanks installed.

• She assures us this final leg of the process is now underway, and soon the water will flow.

• Also flagged an issue about tankers and tanks getting stolen from communities, and wants the maximum punishment for those who are caught.

• Reaffirmed that both land invasions and evictions are illegal during the lockdown.

• The de-densification process (getting people in high-density areas settled somewhere else – in the interests of social distancing) is underway in high-density areas around the country. Gauteng accounts for most of the projects, but there’s a fairly substantial build set for the Western Cape too – with Du Noon and Kosovo residents benefiting.

SOCIAL GRANT UPDATES

• Minister Lindiwe Zulu says the department has access to R43 million to provide food parcels.

• Payment of social grants will not be delayed, and the increases will be paid out as announced.

• Another few months of staggered grant payments – to ensure proper social distancing in queues etc.

• Despite official police numbers released by her Cabinet colleague Bheki Cele last week, Zulu pointed to an increase of gender-based violence during the lockdown. (Cele’s numbers revealed a large drop in reported cases).

PLANS AFOOT

• The Cape Town International Convention Centre is set to be used as a temporary COVID-19 hospital.

• 800 people will be able to be treated there when the pandemic peaks.

• The site will be fitted out to be ready by the first week of June.