Covid-19 Roundup | Breakthroughs and shut downs

In the same week lockdown restrictions are eased and an effective Covid-19 drug is hailed by the medical fraternity, one municipality buckles under the weight of infections.

Breakthrough in Covid-19 treatment

Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug, increases the chances of survival for critically ill Covid-19 patients.

This development came after the University of Oxford in Britain conducted a randomised clinical trial where for 10 days 2 104 Covid-19 patients received 6mg of dexamethasone per day, either orally or by intravenous injection. 

The patients were then compared to 4 321 others who were just on care. The study found that dexamethasone reduced deaths in patients receiving oxygen by a fifth, and in patients that are ventilated by a third. The steroid, however, had no benefit for those who did not need respiratory support.

Addressing the nation on 17 June 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country has a good supply of dexamethasone as it is manufactured here. The health department has recommended that the steroid be considered for those who need oxygen supply and ventilators. “We believe that this will improve our management of the disease among those who are most severely affected,” the health minister said.

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More restrictions eased

In his address, Ramaphosa announced measures to further ease restrictions during lockdown level three. Since the lockdown began, just over 1.2 million people have been tested for Covid-19, with over 83 000 of them testing positive. More than 1 700 people have lost their lives.

The number of infections has been rising rapidly, but because of the financial strain some workers have been under – many people have gone 80 days without a salary – the government has further eased restrictions. Restaurants will be open for sit-down meals; personal care services, including hairdressers and beauty salons, will be opened; cinemas, theatres and casinos will trade with limited capacity; and non-contact sport will be allowed while contact sport is permissible for training only.

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Municipality shut down

In KwaZulu-Natal, the Mthonjaneni Local Municipality in Melmoth has reportedly become the latest government institution to close its doors after 19 staff members tested positive for Covid-19. According to several media reports, those affected include security personnel, councillors and administrative staff.

Sibonginkosi Biyela, the mayor of the municipality, was quoted in the Zululand Observer saying that infected employees and those who have had contact with them have been advised to go into self-isolation for 14 days.

In Richards Bay, the offices of the Department of Home Affairs were this week also reportedly closed until further notice. KwaZulu-Natal has the fourth highest number of cases after Western Cape, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

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Government directive slammed

As part of the national strategy to minimise Covid-19, the employment and labour department on 4 June issued a directive about health and safety in workplaces. This strategy has come under serious criticism from labour activists and organised labour.

The Casual Workers Advise Office (CWAO) said the directive only protects the profits of bosses and not the lives of workers. The CWAO said the government has effectively dumped the language of “flattening the curve” and adopted the narrative that “spikes of infections are inevitable”. And through this radical shift in Covid-19 policy, the government is able to justify the opening of industry and schools which will have a devastating effect on the lives of the working-class poor. The CWAO has urged workers to withdraw their labour if they feel their lives are in danger because of Covid-19. They say the directives give workers this right.

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