Coronavirus morning update: 'Gaps' in UIF Covid relief scheme; and WHO tempers quick vaccine hopes

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 635 078.

According to the latest update, 14 678 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 557 818 recoveries.

So far, more than 3.7 million tests have been conducted, with 18 599 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The Office of the Auditor General told Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour that the Unemployment's Insurance Fund's Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme was riddled with gaps which cause the fund to lose the payment of large sums of money through irregular payments.

The TERS relief was developed by government as a central intervention to assist businesses and their employees during the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown, allowing businesses to continue paying their employees through the restrictions on business operations during the lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa directed Auditor General Kimi Makwetu to audit the transactions of government's various interventions into the pandemic, including the UIF TERS in July. Makwetu found over-payments of benefits and a high number of payments that required further investigation.

Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi announced on Wednesday that he placed Unemployment Insurance Fund Commissioner Teboho Maruping and the management of the UIF on precautionary suspension following the audit and its findings.

Business executive at the office of the Auditor General Nnana Sekoati told the committee on Friday morning that the audit found alarming gaps in preventative controls, including that the system allowed single applicant to submit claims on behalf of multiple employers or bargaining councils.

"The UIF does not corroborate whether these representatives are duly authorised to represent the employers or bargaining councils they purport to be representing.

"There were also no appropriate system validations of the input data submitted by employers and bargaining councils as the basis of claims payment to prevent the processing of non-eligible and invalid claims," said Sekoati.

READ MORE | UIF Covid-19 scheme paid over R800 000 to people who were dead, underaged or in prison

The chairperson of the state capture commission of inquiry, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, has raised concerns about the reported rampant looting in personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement.

"My concern is, it would appear that a lot of people in the country don't really care about who has what powers when it comes to wrongdoing," Zondo said during the appearance of ANC MP Vincent Smith who was testifying on Bosasa-related issues on Friday.

Zondo's comments came after Smith said there was a public finance management act that "is very clear on how public funds must be spent and the consequences thereof".

Smith added Parliament had given the Auditor-General extensive powers post-2013 wherein he had abilities to raise matters with law enforcement.

"I think that would be a deterrent and no minister will in future, will not want to be found wanting to be referred to the SIU or whatever the case might be. I believe that is the step in the right direction," he said.

But Zondo said the commission had been sitting since 2018, hearing evidence of wrongdoing and corruption.

"You would not think that the kind of corruption that we are told about in regard to PPE would be happening.

"But it is like you say. Nothing will happen so we can just continue as normal, nothing will happen and that may well be people they look around and say 'what has happened to who?' - people do things and nothing ever happens. So we will do them, nothing will ever happen."

READ MORE | Zondo says PPE corruption reports are 'frightening', laments lack of corruption prosecutions

Covid-19 has drastically changed the lives and routines of those with disabilities, and it will take a while for them to get used to the new normal, says Social Development Deputy Minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu.

Bogopane-Zulu was speaking to News24 during her visit to Ann Harding Cheshire Home for people with physical disabilities in Randburg, Johannesburg, on Friday.

The department is conducting oversight visits to monitor and assess Covid-19 protocols at various facilities catering for vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

While Minister Lindiwe Zulu was conducting visits in the Free State, Bogopane-Zulu did her walkabout at Cheshire. The home provides care for adults aged 18 to 54 who have a physical disability. It accommodates up to 40 full-time residents.

The home houses residents who have become permanently disabled as a result of among other things: car accidents, violence and assault, strokes, degenerative diseases, and congenital diseases.

READ MORE | Covid-19: 'Lives of people living with disabilities have drastically changed', says deputy minister

The majority of early childhood development centres (ECDs) are still closed because they are not yet compliant with Covid-19 protocols, social development deputy minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said on Friday.

Bogopane-Zulu was speaking during an oversight visit to Ann Harding Cheshire Home for persons with physical disabilities in Randburg, Johannesburg.

The Department of Social Development is conducting oversight visits to monitor and assess Covid-19 protocols at various facilities catering for vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

"Not even 5% of ECDs are open as we speak because they need to be compliant," Bogopane Zulu said.

She added ECDs had to comply before being given the green light and teams led by social workers from the department were monitoring the centres before they reopened.

READ MORE | Majority of ECD centres have still not reopened - Bogopane-Zulu

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Early on Saturday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 26.49 million, while deaths were more than 872 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 6.19 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 187 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The World Health Organization said Friday it did not expect widespread immunisation against the novel coronavirus until mid-2021, tempering hopes just as research revealed encouraging early results from a Russian vaccine.

The virus which has killed nearly 870 000 people worldwide continues to spread, with Italy's flamboyant former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi now in hospital after becoming the latest high-profile figure to test positive for Covid-19.

Across the world, governments are hoping to announce a vaccine as soon as possible against the virus, which has infected well over 26 million people, upended millions of lives and wreaked havoc on the global economy.

The UN health agency welcomed the fact that a "considerable number" of vaccine candidates had entered final stage trials, which typically involve tens of thousands of people.

But "in terms of realistic timelines, we are really not expecting to see widespread vaccination until the middle of next year," WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said.

And WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency would not endorse a vaccine if it is not effective and safe.

READ MORE | WHO tempers quick vaccine hopes

Patients involved in early tests of a Russian coronavirus vaccine developed antibodies with "no serious adverse events", according to research published in The Lancet on Friday, but experts said the trials were too small to prove safety and effectiveness.

Russia announced last month that its vaccine, named "Sputnik V" after the Soviet-era satellite that was the first launched into space in 1957, had already received approval.

This raised concerns among Western scientists over a lack of safety data, with some warning that moving too quickly on a vaccine could be dangerous.

Russia denounced criticism as an attempt to undermine Moscow's research.

READ MORE | Russia vaccine passes early trial test: Lancet report

LATEST RESEARCH AND HEALTH NEWS

Most experts think a Covid-19 vaccine is likely to become widely available by mid-2021, but it is the need to ensure equitable access for all countries that has become a hot topic.

Speaking at the World Health Organization, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Equatorial Guinea media briefing today, Dr Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said that when it does become available, 30% of the population of African countries will have access to the vaccine.

When a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available, the COVAX initiative, which is being co-led by Gavi, CEPI, and WHO, will guarantee fair and equitable access to the Covid-19 vaccine for every country in the world. The organisations are working in partnership with vaccine manufacturers in developed and developing countries.

According to Hatchett, CEPI started working early on in the pandemic to devise systems that would allow equitable allocation and procurement of vaccines to countries worldwide, and that the initiative sees it as an ethics of vaccine multilateralism, which they have contrasted to vaccine nationalism, which happens when a country’s government manages to secure vaccine doses for its own citizens before it’s made available to other countries.

“The COVAX initiative is really the only initiative to ensure equitable access to vaccines. It has brought together over 170 countries that have expressed interest. We want to end the acute phase of the pandemic by the end of 2021,” said Hatchett.

READ MORE | Covid-19 vaccine: Measures are in place to ensure Africa is not left behind if one is approved

Apart from wreaking medical havoc across the world, the Covid-19 pandemic is also wreaking havoc on families and relationships.

According to a paper published in the Royal Society journal, without the right levels of investment, friendships can deteriorate in as little as three months.

The paper – authored by the University of Oxford's evolutionary psychologist, Professor Robin Dunbar – looks at how social connections worldwide are being impacted by lockdown.

And if you think Zoom meetings and WhatsApp chats are enough to keep your friendships going during this time, Dunbar says, it goes a little deeper than this, and that the actual roots of our friendships may go back to the social lives of non-human primates.

Dunbar writes that for many of these primates, strong social bonds (and being part of a "stable group") means protection from predators and rivals. Evolutionary speaking, this means that we rely on our closest friends to support us no matter how bad things get.

But these close bonds require a large deal of maintenance, says Dunbar.

READ MORE | Lockdown may ruin friendships in only three months

HEALTH TIPS (as recommended by the NICD and WHO)

• Maintain physical distancing – stay at least one metre away from somebody who is coughing or sneezing

• Practise frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as your hands touch many surfaces and could potentially transfer the virus

• Practise respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dispose the tissue immediately after use.

Image credit: Getty Images

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