Coronavirus morning update: UIF pays R1.1bn in Covid-19 support, and arrests after masks truck hijacked

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 3 300.

According to the latest update, 58 have been recorded in the country.

So far, 121 510 tests have been conducted

READ MORE |All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

More than 1.6 million South African workers are covered by applications already lodged by companies for special coronavirus payouts, the department of labour said on Monday.

According to broad statistics released by the government, 55 268 employers had asked the state to help pay their employees, at an average of a little under 30 employees per company.

As of 16 April the special Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) had paid out a total of R1.1 billion in Covid-19 support, the department said.

That is after processing applications dealing with some 600 000 employees – which means more than 60% of applications, as measured by employees not fully paid by their employers, are yet to be dealt with.

READ MORE | More than 1.6 million South Africans may get Covid-19 payments – with R1.1 billion now paid

The Unemployment Insurance Fund has said nearly half the applications it received for coronavirus-related claims by last week were duplicates, amid concerns from organised labour that the cover was not reaching enough vulnerable workers during the national lockdown. 

Spokesperson for the UIF Lungelo Mkamba said the lockdown was an extraordinary situation, and while the Fund is operating with skeleton staff, it is "doing its best under the circumstances", through electronic platforms, to process all claims at speed.

But it has received thousands of applications, many of which are duplications of previous applications. 

Others, said Mkamba, do not meet the requirements. Of the applications received so far, just over 40% are being approved. 

"As of Monday 13 April 2020, we have received approximately 39 000 Covid-19 claims, of which 16 000 were duplicates. 23 000 did not the requirements and emails have been sent the applicants. 16 000 claims are currently in various stages of the approval processes," Mkamba said.

READ MORE | UIF sifts through thousands of duplicate claims as growing unemployment threat looms

Three people have been arrested for allegedly hijacking a truck transporting medical masks in Johannesburg on Saturday.

According to South African Police Services (SAPS) national spokesperson Vish Naidoo, the truck was transporting R500 000 worth of medical masks when it was flagged down by a Hyundai sedan on the Barbara Road off-ramp in Isando.

The truck did not stop, but the sedan cornered the truck and forced it to a halt.

The three hijackers then kicked the driver and passengers out, and fled off in the truck.

READ MORE | 3 arrested for hijacking truck transporting medical masks

There has been a sharp increase in activity on South African roads as the country’s lockdown period wears on.

Vehicle tracking company, Tracker, together with Lightstone, has analysed anonymised and aggregated data from client vehicles that shows a dramatic shift in driver habits during South Africa’s initial and extended lockdown periods.

According to the data, South Africans drastically reduced their driving activity during the initial period of lockdown - the first three days of lockdown saw a 75% decrease in vehicle activity.

But from 15 April, Tracker recorded a substantial increase in trips for commercial vehicles, passenger vehicles, taxis, and busses. 

The most notable increase came in the passenger vehicle category.

READ MORE | Big increase in road traffic over recent days

Gauteng hospitals are gearing up for an increase in Covid-19 patients, and their measures include created extra capacity of more than 550 beds and more than 300 intensive care units at public hospitals, with more bed space on the cards. 

Private hospitals in the province are also expanding their resources, some spending hundreds of millions of rands on essential equipment. 

Public hospitals are screening patients and transferring positive cases to designated hospitals. In Pretoria, this is Steve Biko Academic Hospital, working together with Tshwane District Hospital, and in Johannesburg it is Charlotte Maxeke Hospital and Thembisa Hospital.

The Gauteng Provincial Command Council, a government body set up to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, said "we have cleared some of our existing hospitals and declared them Covid-19 facilities”, creating a capacity of 555 standard beds and 308 intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

READ MORE Covid-19 | Gauteng hospitals ready themselves for increase in patients

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 Monday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 2.46 million, while deaths were close to 170 000.

The United States has the most cases in the world - more than 778 000, as well as the most deaths - more than 41 500.

Spain is now the second country to have more than 200 000 cases.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Italy on Monday reported its first symbolic drop in the number of people currently suffering from the novel coronavirus since it recorded its first infection in February.

The civil protection service said 108 237 people were either being treated in hospital or were recovering at home after testing positive - down 20 from the total reported on Sunday.

"For the first time, we have seen a new positive development: The number of currently positive has declined," civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told reporters.

The Mediterranean country's death toll still rose by 454 to 24 114 - second only to the United Sates.

READ MORE | Italy says current virus cases fall for the first time

Chancellor Angela Merkel is "greatly concerned" that virus-fighting discipline among the German public may ebb as the country takes its first steps out of a month-long lockdown, AFP learned from party sources on Monday.

The veteran leader warned against "orgies of discussion about opening up" society, in a telephone conference with leaders of her centre-right CDU party on Monday morning, participants in the call said.

After an apparent race among regional leaders last month to appear the toughest in announcing lockdown measures, some politicians have begun pushing for even faster loosening than the reopening of smaller shops and schools Merkel announced last week.

Business lobbies have been pressuring the government to move faster, but initial steps agreed between Berlin and state capitals are tentative.

READ MORE | Angela Merkel 'concerned' as Germany inches to reopen after month-long lockdown

LATEST RESEARCH

New research sheds light on why the experimental drug remdesivir might become the most powerful weapon in the fight against Covid-19: It is highly effective against an enzyme that plays a crucial role in the spread of the new coronavirus.

Remdesivir is one of several drugs being fast-tracked in various coronavirus treatment trials around the world. Just last week, a small, "compassionate use" trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the drug improved outcomes for people with Covid-19.

More than two-thirds of 53 severely ill patients showed improvement in oxygen support, the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center researchers said. Seventeen of 30 patients who were on ventilators were able to be taken off the life-support machines, the study showed.

The latest research, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, explains how remdesivir, developed in 2014 to fight the Ebola epidemic, works against the new coronavirus.

READ MORE | Why remdesivir might be a good bet against Covid-19

Trying to identify animals that are most likely to transmit viruses to humans may not help prevent future pandemics, researchers say.

Instead, the focus should be on specific types of viruses and how they spread, they suggest.

The current coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated in bats, and most emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning that they're spread from animals to humans, according to researchers from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

This pandemic shows the serious health and economic threat that zoonotic viruses pose, so it's crucial to learn more about them.

READ MORE | Track viruses, not animal carriers, to prevent future pandemics

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.

READ MORE: Coronavirus 101 

Image credit: Getty Images
Read more on: coronavirus lockdown

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