Johannesburg, South Africa – Despite all the warnings, Mama Pinda and Mama Thando decided to go to church.
Dressed in skirts and colourful headwraps, the two ladies in their late thirties met on Monday evening to walk to their church service in Troyeville, Johannesburg. Now more than ever, they felt the urge to pray.
“People are scared,” said Mama Pinda, as she hurried up the hill.
“We are chasing the coronavirus away in our prayer,” she added with a laugh.
Mama Pinda and her friend, who brought her toddler along, stubbornly tried to defy the appeals to avoid crowded spaces amid a general atmosphere of hesitation in the streets that followed the announcement by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa of a series of drastic measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
Outcomes of the Special Cabinet Meeting on the #CoronaVirusSA outbreak #COVID19SA https://t.co/7wNdxac82L
— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿🇦 (@CyrilRamaphosa) March 15, 2020
When he addressed the nation on Sunday evening, Ramaphosa called “for a change of behaviour amongst all South Africans”.
Gatherings of more than 100 people were prohibited while the population was advised to minimise contact with others and do the “elbow greeting” rather than shaking hands. Schools, nurseries and universities were also ordered to remain shut from Wednesday onwards.
“Never before in the history of our democracy has our country been confronted with such a severe situation,” Ramaphosa said in a dramatic speech, which he opened by declaring a national state of disaster.
By the end of his address, everything seemed to have changed.
“Suddenly, South Africans jolted into action,” said Professor Mosa Moshabela, from the School of Nursing and Public Health of the University of Kwazulu Natal. “And that is good,” added Moshabela, who is convinced that the country’s fighting chance against the new coronavirus is social distancing and precautious behaviour.
Now declared a pandemic, the outbreak of the new coronavirus that was first detected in China late last year has infected nearly 200,000 people in more than 150 countries.
COVID-19, the highly infectious disease caused by the virus, has so far killed almost 8,000 people, while more than 81,000 others have recovered. Across Africa, the number of registered infections has risen to 418 in 30 countries, while South Africa’s government has been one of several in the continent to impose travel restrictions on European countries and the United States.
In the days before Ramaphosa’s speech, South Africans had been aware of “corona” but did not seem too concerned about it as the country of some 59 million people had only registered just a few dozen cases, all of which involved international travellers.
But over the past 48 hours, a sense of insecurity has largely swept through South Africa as it is getting ready for the shutdown. Measures other countries had taken gradually over weeks, such as closing schools, imposing severe domestic and international travel restrictions and shutting entry points, South Africa took all at once. Thirty-five of 53 land entry points have been closed, as have two out of eight seaports.
‘Very, very worrying’
By Wedneday morning, South Africa had 116 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths.
Despite the relatively low numbers, one of the main worries is what will happen once the virus reaches the crowded inner cities and townships.
“We must alert all South Africans that the internal transmission risk is now settling in,” Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize said in a statement on Tuesday. “Once this infection starts spreading in taxis and buses, it will create a new dynamic.”
COVID-19 infects people of all ages, but evidence to date suggests that older adults and those with underlying medical conditionsare at higher risk of becoming severely ill.
In South Africa, about 9 percent of the population is 60 years or older, while the situation is complicated by the country’s dual burden of HIV and tuberculosis.
“We have seven million people that are HIV-positive, and two million are not on treatment,” said Professor Susan Goldstein Public, a health specialist and deputy director of the Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science.
“That is very, very worrying.”
Due to the disparate societal and demographic structure of South Africa, there is growing uncertainty about what may happen if the coronavirus is not contained.
“We also don’t know how it plays out in very poor areas where there aren’t places for quarantine – and bed-sharing is not possible,” added Goldstein, who holds some hope that the strong private health sector may open to everyone.
“Then we may have enough beds. That is what the national health insurance is currently trying to achieve.”
INSIDE STORY: Can there be equality in post-apartheid South Africa? (24:26)
Dilapidated public health system
More than 25 years after the fall of apartheid, South Africa is still one of the most unequal countries in the world, which translates into the failure of delivering basic services to its people, including healthcare. Eighty-two percent of people living in South Africa have no health insurance and rely on public clinics and hospitals. These facilities are overcrowded and understaffed and often fall short of coping with the high amount of communicable and infectious diseases.
“We cannot contain COVID-19 with our health system alone,” Moshabela said. “If we look at how Italy [Europe’s coronavirus hotspot] is coping with the virus – we can’t do it. We will be similar to that with the difference is that we don’t have a big old population but a high number of people who have TB and HIV. Those who are going to be affected the most are going to be between 20 and 60.”
Health professionals agree that only a drastic public health response can prevent the virus from spreading at a fast pace, warning that societal factors such as lack of access to information and lack of sense of empowerment – people often do not know where to seek help or what they can do to protect themselves – complicates the fight to contain COVID-19.
Compounding the challenging situation is the country’s high unemployment rate of 29.1 percent. “Many people live under conditions of severe poverty,” Moshabela said. “Asking those to restrict movements and not go to work is not going to be an option.”
Spread of rumours
Meanwhile, in the streets of Johannesburg, the mood has shifted from cracking “corona” jokes to general tension and confusion.
In Bertrams, a low-income neighbourhood just east of Johannesburg’s inner city, people started moving into the local supermarkets to equip themselves for what is coming. Shops and other places frequented by the public intensified hygienic controls. Some started wearing face masks.
At the entrance of a local supermarket, two ladies sprayed everyone’s hands in an attempt to limit germs; all employees wore blue single-use gloves; and the managers covered their mouths with masks.
“It’s serious,” the security guard at the entrance said, laughing timidly.
Having believed a rumour that COVID-19 comes from eating meat, some people think they have to change their diets. On his way out of a local corner shop, a man proudly held up his plastic bag and announced that he is now buying fish. “Nyama [meat] gives you corona,” he said.
False information shared in Whatsapp groups and other social media platforms perpetuate the confusion. “A Palestinian scientist has found the vaccine against corona” is one message circulating in the community groups. Another one reads: “Corona can be cured by boiling 8 tablespoons of garlic and 6 cups of water.”
Information is an important factor to contain the virus, said Moshabela, whose university will remain shut as of Wednesday. On this last day, he called a meeting in the boardroom to inform the people about the reasons behind the measures that have been taken.
“We don’t have the basics,” he said, referring to the need for people to understand why shaking hands, giving hugs or going to gatherings is not acceptable any more.
But even when information is accessible, there is denial.
“There is tension with religion, there is tension with economy. But on the other hand, if we carry on as if it was nothing, some of us won’t have a life at all.”
South Africa’s repatriated citizens test negative for COVID-19 (2:04)
Doctors in South Korea suspend strike: Coronavirus live news |NationalTribune.com
China’s president Xi Jinping has told a ceremony in Beijing that the country had acted in an “open and transparent” manner over the coronavirus. Trainee doctors and interns have returned to work in South Korea after a weeks-long strike over government reform plans. There have been more than 27.3 million cases of coronavirus confirmed around…
China’s president Xi Jinping has told a ceremony in Beijing that the country had acted in an “open and transparent” manner over the coronavirus.
Trainee doctors and interns have returned to work in South Korea after a weeks-long strike over government reform plans.
There have been more than 27.3 million cases of coronavirus confirmed around the world, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 892,443 people have died. At least 18.3 million people have recovered.
Here are the latest updates:
Tuesday, September 8
04:50 GMT – India reports highest number of deaths in a month
India has reported the most deaths from coronavirus in a month.
The health ministry says 1,133 people died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, lifting the total death toll to 72,775.
The number of cases was 75,809, the lowest daily figure in a week.
04:00 GMT – Xi says China ‘open and transparent’ on COVID-19
More from the ceremony in Beijing where President Xi Jinping has been speaking.
He told the audience that China acted in an “open and transparent” manner over the virus, which first emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
The country has also made “concrete efforts” to help other nations affected by the disease, he said.
President Xi Jinping presents the national medal to respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]
03:50 GMT – Victoria to strengthen contact tracing as it doubles down on virus
Victoria is strengthening its contract tracing programme to ensure is maintains a steady decline in cases.
State Premier Daniel Andrews says the state government will set up five contact tracing teams to focus on different geographic areas of the southeastern state of Australia, making it easier to target specific areas when patients are diagnosed.
Andrews says the lower daily case figures show the state’s on the right track with its tough lockdowns.
“I think we’ll be able to take some significant steps soon because the trend is with us, the trend is good,” he said in a televised news conference, referring to more rural areas of the state.
03:30 GMT – Zhong Nanshan honoured in China special COVID-19 event
China is holding a special event to recognise its ‘role models’ in the fight against the coronavirus with Zhong Nanshan, China’s top respiratory disease expert, awarded the Medal of the Republic – China’s top honour.
Zhong was among a group of specialists who first went to Wuhan in January to investigate the mysterious new virus that had emerged at the end of December.
“We must not lower our guard and must finish the battle,” Zhong said in his acceptance speech.
China came down hard on doctors in the city who tried to raise the alarm over the disease, and there was outrage after the death of Li Wenliang, an eye doctor who was reprimanded by the authorities for raising his concerns about the new illness with colleagues. Li was ‘exonerated’ in August.
Commending role models signals #China’s victory in the hard-won battle against the deadly #coronavirus: epidemiologists https://t.co/K8pYHXXGRJ pic.twitter.com/wicpRQ6vPE
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) September 8, 2020
Never has a building been more aptly named: Outstanding individuals, set to be honored for the parts they played in the nation’s COVID-19 fight, travel to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing https://t.co/jPKTJsFodI #ThankyouCOVID19Heroes pic.twitter.com/2itUE75GlV
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) September 8, 2020
03:15 GMT – South Korea daily cases below 200 for sixth straight day
South Korea has reported 136 new cases of coronavirus, the sixth day in a row that the number has been below 200, according to Yonhap.
The country’s been trying to control a spike in cases that begun in August 14 and has been linked to a church service and a political rally in central Seoul.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says stricter distancing measures are beginning to have an impact although the emergence of case clusters remains a concern.
02:50 GMT – Antigen tests in focus as Bali cases surge
Medical experts are linking a surge in coronavirus cases on the Indonesian island of Bali to the inaccurate, low-cost rapid antibody test kits that are being used to screen domestic visitors.
Foreign tourists can’t travel to the popular island, but Indonesians have been able to do so since July 31.
Since then, the island’s tourist authority says it has been welcoming an average of 3,000 domestic tourists every day.
But along with the tourists’ return it has also seen a spike in coronavirus cases, and health experts say the use of cheap, but unreliable, antigen tests could be creating a false sense of security.
You can read more on that story here.
Balinese people, who are Hindu, wear protective suits during a cremation ceremony called ‘Ngaben’ in Klungkung last month. The island has seen a growing number of cases since domestic tourism resumed in August [Made Nagi/EPA]
01:40 GMT – Japan to tap emergency reserve for $6.3b for coronavirus vaccines
Japan has approved the use $6.3 billion from its emergency budget to secure coronavirus vaccines.
The government says it hopes to have enough vaccine for every citizen by the middle of next year, providing any innoculation for free.
01:30 GMT – Japan’s economy shrinks more than thought in Q2
It seems Japan’s economy shrank even more than initially thought in the second quarter to the end of June.
The government initially said the economy contracted by 7.8 percent compared with the first quarter.
Now it’s taken a closer look at the figures and says it shrank 7.9 percent.
It’s the country’s worst economic contraction in its modern history.
Japan shrinks: Coronavirus sends economy into record contraction
00:15 GMT – Victoria in Australia reports 55 new cases, eight deaths
Victoria state has reported 55 new cases of coronavirus and a further eight deaths.
The southeastern state now accounts for about three-quarters of Australia’s 26,377 cases. Melbourne, its capital city, is under a strict lockdown and curfew until September 28.
#COVID19VicData for 8 September, 2020. Yesterday there were 55 new cases reported and 8 lives lost. Our thoughts are with all those affected. More information will be available later today. pic.twitter.com/GEo5Iio7vU
— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) September 7, 2020
00:00 GMT – South Korea doctors say they will return to work
Doctors’ associations in South Korea say their members are returning to work after a weeks-long strike over government plans to reform the medical system.
The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA), which represents interns and residents, at general hospitals, says the doctors will resume work from 7am (22:00 GMT), Yonhap News Agency reported.
A separate committee representing physicians and clinicians who also took part in the strike says its members will also report for duty.
The Korean Medical Association, the country’s largest doctor’s group, reached an agreement with the government to end its strike on Friday, as coronavirus cases surged.
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Kate Mayberry in Kuala Lumpur and will be keeping you updated over the next few hours.
Read all the updates from yesterday (September 7) here.
Anger in South Africa as disabled teen dies after police shooting |NationalTribune.com
Johannesburg, South Africa – Residents in the South African capital are angry after a disabled 16-year-old boy was allegedly shot dead by the police. Nathaniel Julius, who had Down’s syndrome, died in a hospital in Johannesburg on Wednesday night, hours after he was shot by the police metres away from his home in the city’s Eldorado Park suburb.…
Johannesburg, South Africa – Residents in the South African capital are angry after a disabled 16-year-old boy was allegedly shot dead by the police.
Nathaniel Julius, who had Down’s syndrome, died in a hospital in Johannesburg on Wednesday night, hours after he was shot by the police metres away from his home in the city’s Eldorado Park suburb.
The killing occurred after residents in the neighbourhood – ravaged by drugs and crime – took to the streets to protest the lack of housing in the area.
In recent months, the South African police have faced allegations of brutality during the enforcement of coronavirus restrictions.
Police claimed Julius was wounded in a shoot-out between gang members and police officers when a stray bullet hit him. But the family and the community rejected the claim.
According to the family, the teenager was shot in the chest when he was unable to answer questions from the police.
Witnesses said Julius was holding a biscuit in his hand when police began questioning him, but he was not able to answer properly due to his condition.
Witnesses alleged that police officers bundled Julius into a van after the shooting and took him to hospital several miles away, where he died.
‘Justice for Nathaniel’
“Police should be trained to minimise the possibility that bystanders will be killed. The facts are not clear here, but a shoot-out does not in itself constitute justification for the death,” David Bruce, an independent expert on policing in South Africa, told Al Jazeera.
During the protest on the day of Julius’ death, Eldorado Park residents hurled rocks at the police, who retaliated by firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.
A provincial government official, Faith Mazibuko, visited the teen’s family on Thursday and announced that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IDIP) will probe the case.
Addressing the reporters later, Mazibuko said the police officers deployed in Eldorado Park during the incident have been removed while the case is being investigated.
Meanwhile, more violence followed on Thursday, with residents calling for an overhaul of the police force in the area.
Residents of Eldorado Park protesting the death of the teenage boy allegedly shot by the police [Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]
In a statement on Wednesday, IDIP spokesperson Ndileka Cola said it was difficult to reach the scene of the incident “as the situation had been volatile” and that it was difficult to conduct interviews “as the community was violent”.
On Friday, Police Minister Bheki Cele was confronted by an angry crowd chanting “Police are corrupt!” and “Justice for Nathaniel!” as he visited Julius’s parents in Eldorado Park.
According to the boy’s family, the police are trying to “cover up” the “cold-blooded” killing.
The shooting is reminiscent of other instances of recent police brutality in South Africa during the coronavirus lockdown that started on March 27.
Bruce compared the boy’s shooting to the killing of Tyrone Moeng, 19, who was fatally shot by the police on April 13.
Themba Masuku of the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum said, “The killing of a defenceless young man by the police demonstrates serious problems in our policing”.
“It is highly unlikely that this young person posed any threat that warranted lethal force. The culture of impunity and lack of respect for life is worrisome because everyone especially children must feel safe around the police. Force should be used as a last resort,” Masuku told Al Jazeera.
“We have a moral duty and that is to demand the truth. We must demand answers and expect to get only the truth,” said Yasmin Sooka, executive director at Johannesburg-based Foundation for Human Rights.
US says China’s South China Sea missile launches threat to peace |NationalTribune.com
The United States Department of Defense said on Thursday that Chinese test launches of ballistic missiles in the South China Sea were a threat to peace and security in the region. Confirming reports that China had launched as many as four ballistic missiles during military exercises around the Paracel Islands, the Pentagon said the move…
The United States Department of Defense said on Thursday that Chinese test launches of ballistic missiles in the South China Sea were a threat to peace and security in the region.
Confirming reports that China had launched as many as four ballistic missiles during military exercises around the Paracel Islands, the Pentagon said the move called into question the country’s 2002 commitment to avoiding provocative activities in the disputed seas.
“Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The PRC’s actions, including missile tests, further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea.” The PRC – or People’s Republic of China – is the country’s official name.
“Such exercises also violate PRC commitments under the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea to avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability,” the Pentagon statement added.
Over the past decade China has built up military installations on several disputed reefs and outcrops in the South China Sea to assert its claim over much of the area. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia also have maritime claims to the sea.
Project Force: How powerful is China’s new navy?
The South China Morning Post reported earlier on Thursday that China launched an intermediate-range DF-26B ballistic missile from Qinghai Province and a medium-range DF-21D missile from Zhejiang Province after a US spy plane reportedly entered a Chinese-designated “no-fly zone” in an area where live-fire naval drills were taking place.
China described the flight of the US spy plane in the area as a “provocative action”.
The Pentagon said the Chinese military’s August 23-29 military exercises near the Paracels – which it calls the Xisha Islands – were “the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbors.”
It said the US had urged China in July to reduce its “militarization and coercion” in the region.
Instead, “The PRC chose to escalate its exercise activities by firing ballistic missiles,” it said.
The DF-26B was formally unveiled earlier this month, and is capable of hitting moving targets at sea. The Global Times, a state-run tabloid, dubbed it the “aircraft-carrier killer”.
It is unjustified for the US to impose sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals for involvement in construction activities in their own country. pic.twitter.com/3jpaN9z8v9
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) August 27, 2020
Earlier on Thursday Beijing criticised Washington over its blacklisting of two dozen state-owned Chinese companies involved in building and supplying China’s South China Sea bases.
“The US’s words grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs … it is wholly tyrannical logic and power politics,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian.
“China will take firm measures to uphold the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and individuals,” he said.
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