Coronavirus morning update: SIU probes PPE contracts worth R5bn, and KZN likely reached peak

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 596 060.

According to the latest update, 12 423 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 491 441 recoveries.

So far, a total of more than 3.45 million tests have been conducted, with 25 324 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) says it has reprioritised some of its cases to ensure it investigates at least 658 contracts related to Covid-19 procurement worth R5 billion.

However, SIU head Andy Mothibi assured the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday that their investigations into state-owned enterprises, notably Eskom, would not be affected.

Last month, as allegations of graft around the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) emerged, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a proclamation mandating the SIU to investigate irregularities in Covid-19-related contracts across government departments and all other spheres of state.

In total, the SIU is investigating 658 contracts, worth just over R5 billion, even though this figure could rise substantially, as some of the contracts are still to be quantified.

According to the information presented to Scopa, the government department with the most contracts under investigation is the Eastern Cape Department of Health, with 239 cases worth R622.4 million.

In terms of national departments, the SIU is investigating a single contract in the Department of Labour, Department of Education, Department of Defence and Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, and 22 cases worth R53.9 million at the Department of Correctional Services.

READ MORE | , Eastern Cape tops alleged irregular cases

KwaZulu-Natal, the province which had the first known Covid-19 patient in the country, is likely to have passed its peak infections, Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said on Wednesday.

"In essence, as a province, we peaked and I believe we peaked just a few weeks after Gauteng. You would remember that towards the end of July, we had numbers that varied from 3 000 to 3 900. We had that average number for two weeks," she told journalists during a site visit to Clairwood Hospital in Durban.

Simelane-Zulu said there had been a decrease in numbers since the beginning of August.

"Since early August, we've started seeing a bit of a dip and we are going down. At this point, we don't want to outright say our numbers have gone down."

She was speaking after the Covid-19 hospital facility was handed over by the Department of Public Works to the Department of Health.

Simelane-Zulu said there were still a few days before numbers truly declined.

"The World Health Organisation has a protocol for the number of days that you can clearly say that your pandemic is on the decline. We don't believe we've reached that yet. We will wait for a couple of days and see how our numbers are going to go down."

READ MORE | Covid-19: KZN peaked just after Gauteng, says health MEC

The SA Communist Party (SACP) in Limpopo wants the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate personal protective equipment (PPE) tender corruption in the province.

The SACP also called for a lifestyle audit and vetting of the chief director in the supply chain and all people involved in the procurement process at the provincial health department.

The party said it was perturbed by the latest news reports revealing allegations of rampant corruption and nepotism in the procurement of PPE in Limpopo.

The SACP held a meeting with Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba to discuss procurement processes in her department and allegations of officials involved in corruption.

Its provincial secretary, Goodman Mitileni, said Ramathuba had clarified issues around the procurement process.

"We however, do not take the allegations lightly as this creates an opportunity for 'covidpreneurs' to loot the state. The SACP wants this matter to get full attention and be dealt with thoroughly and swiftly by the provincial government.

"The simultaneous pandemic of Covid-19 corruption, whereby 'covidpreneurs' want to make a quick buck out of the fear, sickness, suffering and death of our people must be halted here and now. This is totally inhuman and unacceptable," added Mitileni.

President Cyril Ramaphosa last month authorised an SIU investigation into Covid-19-related corruption.

READ MORE | Ramaphosa urged to unleash SIU on 'covidpreneurs' in Limpopo

To fight the Covid-19 pandemic, the Gauteng provincial government spent over R2.1 billion in just four months, mostly on medical supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE), detergents, groceries and the refurbishment and upgrading of buildings.

Gauteng released its Covid-19 Expenditure Disclosure Report, a 30-page document, which consisted mainly of a list of vendors and the amounts they were paid for goods and services.

The report also detailed the total spent by the different provincial departments and what the money was spent on.

According to the document, since the pandemic reached South Africa's shores, Gauteng's provincial departments spent a total of R2 112 992 618 on Covid-19 related goods and services - of which 91.78% of the spend (R1 939 319 260) was by the province's health department.

This is because the procurement of Covid-19 PPE items was centralised, according to the report.

READ MORE | Gauteng spent R2.1 billion between April and July to fight Covid-19

The South African Broadcasting Corporation said in a statement on Wednesday evening that the R1.5 billion in Covid-19 relief funding it applied for from government had not yet been received but would be used for its intended purpose once it is.

The statement comes amid reports that the public service broadcaster was looking for financial assistance to soften the blow that the pandemic dealt to its business.

The statement also comes as the SABC grapples with whether or not it should cut staff numbers in line with planned retrenchments to stabilise itself financially. Unions have told Parliament that the SABC has indicated an intention to pursue this before exhausting the process of a skills audit.

Multiple news media companies in South Africa have been rocked by the pandemic after lockdown restrictions tightened finances for businesses to the point where they could not afford to advertise in media outlets. Associated Media Publishing announced its closure in South Africa in April.

The statement said the SABC suffered significant material loss as a consequence of the negative effects of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus on the South African economy.

"The Corporation therefore submitted a projected revenue loss of R1.5 billion to the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies due to Covid-19," the statement said.

The SABC said the funding was granted for clearly defined priorities, including the settling outstanding accounts from service and content providers, investment in new content as well as investment in, and the maintenance of, the technology and infrastructure.

READ MORE | SABC vows Covid-19 relief funds will be used as intended

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.

Late on Wednesday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 22.23 million, while deaths were more than 783 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 5.51 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 172 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Countries with female leaders have handled the coronavirus pandemic "systematically and significantly better" than those run by men, according to a new research paper.

A study of 194 countries by Supriya Garikipati, of the University of Liverpool, and Uma Kambhampati, of the University of Reading, found that "being female-led has provided countries with an advantage in the current crisis".

A preprint of the paper, which has not been peer reviewed, was posted on SSRN in early June. The authors also wrote about their research in a blog post for the World Economic Forum in late July.

On the face of it, male-led countries like the US, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and UK have fared extremely badly in the pandemic, recording some of the highest death tolls in the world.

Meanwhile, women-led countries like Germany, Denmark, New Zealand, Taiwan, Iceland, and Finland have recorded far lower death tolls. (It is worth noting that some male-led countries, like the Czech Republic and Greece, have recorded lower deaths as well.)

READ MORE | Women-led countries handled the coronavirus pandemic 'far better' than those run by men - study

LATEST RESEARCH AND HEALTH NEWS

Until now, scientists were unsure to which extent our immune systems could manufacture antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

In many cases, our immune systems can “remember” viruses which enables us to fight them off at a later stage. Scientists have, therefore, been investigating our immune response against the novel coronavirus, not only for the purpose of vaccine development, but to erase any uncertainty we still have about whether we can build immunity against the virus.

According to the latest research on the topic, which was published in the journal Cell on 11 August 2020, it appears that antibodies created by the virus, as well as immune cells called B-cells and T-cells, are able to remember the virus, even months after the initial infection.

It has to be mentioned, however, that the research has not been peer-reviewed and only the pre-proof copy was available.

Earlier studies suggested that even though SARS-CoV-2 triggered an antibody response from the body, it was short-lived and not capable of building long-term immunity.

But this new research may offer a glimmer of hope and a strong indication that the body’s cells are doing what they are meant to protect us against the virus.

“This is exactly what you would hope for,” stated Dr Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington in an article published in the New York Times. She is also the author of another new study, currently under review in the journal Nature. “All the pieces are there to have a totally protective immune response,” she said.

READ MORE | New research shows early signs that Covid-19 may trigger longer-term immunity

If an antibacterial mouthwash hasn’t become your best friend for oral care just yet, this might change your mind: according to the latest research, it could reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) transmission.

The researchers, from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, together with colleagues from five other German universities, found that SARS-CoV-2 can be inactivated using certain commercially available mouthwashes.

Their results were published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, and a review of the laboratory results in clinical trials is pending.

In May this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that there is “no evidence” that mouthwash can protect one against the new coronavirus. This was after a report was released, suggesting that the oral hygiene product could damage the virus and prevent infection.

Researchers say mouthwash chemicals chlorhexidine, cetylpyridinium, hydrogen peroxide, and povidone-iodine have the potential to prevent infections. Since high viral loads can be detected in the oral cavity and throat of some Covid-19 patients, gargling with a mouthwash that is effective against SARS-CoV-2 could help to reduce the viral load, and possibly the risk of virus transmission in the short term

Lead author of an earlier study this year, Professor Valerie O'Donnell, co-director of Cardiff University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute said:

“In test-tube experiments and limited clinical studies, some mouthwashes contain enough of known virucidal ingredients to effectively target lipids in similar enveloped viruses.

“What we don’t know yet is whether existing mouthwashes are active against the lipid membrane of SARS-CoV-2.”

READ MORE | Coronavirus transmission: Scientists ran lab experiments on mouthwash - this is what they found

Africa reached the one million Covid-19 cases mark at the beginning of this month, with South Africa remaining fifth in the world and representing 61.7% of Africa's total confirmed cases.

Nigeria, with the second-highest number of confirmed cases in sub-Saharan Africa, has the 50th most cases in the world, with almost 50 000 cases and 977 deaths, followed by Ghana, Algeria, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Africa reached the one million Covid-19 cases mark at the beginning of this month, with South Africa remaining fifth in the world and representing 61.7% of Africa's total confirmed cases.

Nigeria, with the second-highest number of confirmed cases in sub-Saharan Africa, has the 50th most cases in the world, with almost 50 000 cases and 977 deaths, followed by Ghana, Algeria, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The latest World Health Organisation (WHO) region report noted that besides South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Algeria are also seeing a downward trajectory in cases.

The African country with the biggest upward trajectory is Gambia, followed by Botswana, Namibia and Angola. Other countries with increasing numbers include Zambia, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

In terms of deaths, South Africa also has recorded the highest number, followed by Ethiopia and Algeria. On the a positive note, the recovery rate stands at around 73% in Africa with an overall confirmed case fatality rate of 2.2%.

But what exactly is happening closer to home in the Southern African region?

READ MORE | Covid-19: What's the situation in other African countries?

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

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24