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South Africa Moves Closer to Securing COVID-19 Vaccine

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The South African Government says it has made a $19m down payment to secure a place in the World Health Organisation’s Covax Facility.

The payment amounts to the 15% of the total cost of securing access to vaccines for about 10 per cent of the population.

The move ensures that South Africa will receive its equitable share of the vaccine once it becomes available.

The country had missed the initial deadline to make the payment last week and was given an extension to this week.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the process has brought together government, international partners and business for the sole purpose of delivering quality healthcare to South Africa.

“This is what we have been advocating for when we speak of multi-sectoral collaboration and it is gratifying to see this spirit being harnessed for the good of our people, Africans and the global village,” he said.

Meanwhile, South African scientists said they are working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate a new variant of coronavirus, currently surging in many parts of the country.

The new variant known as 501.V2 was identified by a genomics team led by the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform.

It was discovered earlier this month, when scientists noticed a number of mutations during routine surveillance of the virus.

Local scientists say that South Africa’s new variant appears to be unrelated to the one found in the UK.

But it does share one important mutation. The shared mutation affects the way the virus attaches to human cells – and scientists speculate that is what is behind the faster transmission of this virus.

Researchers in the UK say the mutated virus there is 70% more transmissible. But experts in South Africa say they are still gathering data on this, but expect this may be the case here too.

In South Africa the new variant was first found in the Eastern Cape province and has since spread to the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Mutations in viruses are not uncommon, experts say. It is not clear at this stage whether the new variants are more deadly.

Some countries – including Germany and Switzerland – have now banned flights from South Africa and the UK, while El Salvador has banned any travellers who were in the UK and South Africa in the last 30 days.

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MTN Donates $25M to the African Union

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Telecommunication giant, MTN, has announced a donation of $25million to support the African Union COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Ralph Mupita, President and Chief Executive Officer of MTN Group, on Wednesday in Johannesburg, said that the donation will help secure up to seven million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for health workers across the continent.

This he said will contribute to the vaccination initiative of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

“The devastating impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and profound, therefore, Public and private partnerships are needed if we are to succeed in the fight against the pandemic.

“The sole objective is to restore social and economic norms for our continent and our communities and most importantly the determination to bring lasting solutions to the disease,

“On Jan. 14, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chairperson of the African Union, announced that the African Union had secured a provisional 270 million COVID-19 vaccine doses on behalf of its Member States.

“Through advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to US$2 billion to the manufacturers by the African Export-Import Bank.

“This was an important milestone in efforts to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine for Africa’s people,’’ Mupita said.

He added that with a population of about 1.3 billion, Africa requires many more doses to achieve at least 60 per cent herd immunity.

Contributions by private organisations, like MTN, are therefore essential to help the continent reach its target.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, MTN has made significant contributions to help limit the spread of the disease and save lives and livelihoods within its African market.

This donation is another example of MTN’s efforts to help find lasting solutions to solve the challenges facing the continent and to guarantee a healthy Africa, for all Africans.

“We believe ongoing collaborations with key stakeholders across sectors are essential as vaccines are deployed in all our markets, with communication tools, technology and digital services being vital support infrastructure.

“Therefore, for a successful mass vaccination programme. in the coming months, MTN Group will look at similar support commitments for the markets in which we operate in the Middle East.”Mupita said.

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Nigeria Confirms 15 Additional COVID-19 Deaths

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed 15 additional deaths from COVID-19 complications, bringing the total number of death toll in the country to 1,522.

The NCDC disclosed this on its website.

The centre also said that 1,303 new cases of COVID-19 was recorded, bringing the total number of infection in the country to 124,299.

The new infections were reported in 24 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

The centre said Lagos, FCT and Nasarawa recorded the highest number of COVID-19 infections on Monday, with 478 , 211 and 83 cases respectively.

Others state with new infections are Rivers-72, Kwara-42, Edo-36, Ondo-34, Benue-32, Kaduna-32, Katsina-26, Plateau-26, Kano-25, Taraba-25, Osun-22, Delta-21, Oyo-21, Niger-19, Sokoto-18, Ebonyi-17, Ekiti-14, Gombe-13, Ogun-12, Bauchi-11, Zamfara-eight, Borno-four and Jigawa-one.

The 1,270,523 people have been tested since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was recorded on Feb. 27, 2020.

The agency also announced that 917 patients have been discharged from isolation centres across the country after testing negative to the virus , raising the total number of patients discharged to 99,276.

It added that the discharged included 542 community recoveries in Lagos State, 103 in Plateau and 22 in Kwara, managed in line with NCDC guidelines.

The NCDC noted that a multi-sectoral national Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) activated at Level III, is coordinating response activities nationwide.

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Nigerian Governor, 9 Aides Contract COVID-19

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A Nigerian governor, Samuel Ortom, and nine of his aides have tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease, two statements confirmed on Wednesday.

Ortom, governor of Benue State in Nigeria’s middle belt region, contracted the virus but did not show any symptoms of the virus, his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Terver Akase, said in a statement.

Akase said: “The latest result of the governor’s COVID-19 test has returned positive.

“This follows the test results of most of the governor’s close aides who also returned positive in the last few weeks.

“Though the governor has not shown any symptoms of the disease, he has already commenced treatment as prescribed by medical personnel,” Akase said.

He advised those who have had contact with the governor in the last couple of days to go for tests.

He added that it was equally important that those who came in contact with other persons who had tested positive for COVID-19 should go for test to ascertain their status.

Residents of the state are urged to continue to observe COVID-19 safety protocols such as wearing of face masks, use of hand sanitisers, regular hand washing and physical distancing.

He encouraged the people to go for COVID-19 test as part of efforts in containing the spread of the virus.

Also, Benue Deputy Governor, Engr. Benson Abounu, on Wednesday revealed that nine aides of Ortom had tested positive for Coronavirus.

Abounu, who made the disclosure in Makurdi during a press conference, said despite the number of aides that tested positive for the virus, all government activities were going on smoothly.

Abounu, the State Chairman of Action Committee on COVID-19, said the committee had already carried out contact tracing of those who came in contact with all those infected by the virus.

He said though nine aides tested positive for COVID-19, the pandemic had yet to affect the day-to-day running of government in the state.

According to NCDC records, Benue has 749 cases, 196 on admission, 535 persons discharged with 18 deaths.

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