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The Scientific twists and turns of Covid-19

The-Scientific-twists-and-turns-of-Covid-19

The world is racing towards a Covid-19 vaccine; and amidst the wait there has been so many twists and turns; albeit science clashing with politics in some instances. All the while scientists have been saved by their phlegmatic approach to issues hence neutralizing the somehow polemical politicians.

According to NBC News via their Covid-19 Vaccine Watch, by end of this week there were 139 vaccines in development; and 28 vaccines in human trials. The world is hoping and waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment breakthroughs. These statistics are all in the backdrop of a Russian ‘breakthrough’ which has attracted criticism from rivals in the political and scientific world.

The world has already seen the twists and turns of remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, favipiravir, and others. There was another potentially dangerous hypothesis that raised eyebrows and drew outright hostility in some quarters – that claimed nicotine could potentially play a role in treating COVID-19!

Back home in the capital Gaborone, the Acting Coordinator of the Covid-19 Task Team, Professor Mosepele Mosepele announced on national broadcaster, BTV that they have a new definition of ‘Recovery’ for Covid-19 patients. Patients who have been with the virus for over 10 days and are certified by a medical professional to be well shall be deemed a ‘Recovery’. This is in line with the latest WHO standards, he said.

Pliable as they are, to WHO protocols, Botswana’s Covid-19 Task Team has not been excited by the plethora of covid-19 remedies being brandished wishy washy style in the global arena. They were not inch moved by Madagascar’s herbal concoction hailed by that country’s president. In any case the hype around the concoction dissipated within a matter of days.

Meanwhile as the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom assembled over 200 scientists on Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine research team and came up with an Oxford candidate vaccine, called AZD1222; the University of Botswana was also taking a shot at local herbal plants to see if they could not sum up a Covid-19 remedy. At Oxford, AZD1222 seems to have no serious side effects and triggered an immune response among over 1,000 people involved in the trials. However, there is still a long way to go before the vaccine can be declared ready for widespread usage.

AZD1222 is one of several potential COVID-19 vaccines being developed around the world. Batswana are still waiting for the latest report from University of Botswana scientists as far as the research on Covid-19 remedy is concerned.

Scientists are using four platforms to generate monoclonal antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein: human antibody phage display; immunized human antibody transgenic mice; antibodies isolated from the blood of people who have recovered from infection; and computational structure-based antibody design.

In parallel to work on antibodies, scientists are using all of their expertise in medicinal chemistry and chemical assets to find small molecule inhibitors. In some parts of the world they are screening their entire molecular library of more than one million compounds to identify those with potential activity to treat COVID-19.

They are using computational screening to speedily search this huge resource, starting with two priority viral targets: SARS-CoV-2 main protease and SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease. The expertise they have built in artificial intelligence-aided optimization of drug candidates will speed their path, they say.

Russia blows own BIG trumpet

Russia’s Vladmir Putin has been blowing his own trumpet lately. His social media platforms were pregnant with enthusiastically worded self-approvals of a vaccine that has been developed in Russia and was about to be released to the public. In fact his daughter has already received the first dosage of the vaccine.

Reports indicate that initial batches of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine will roll off production lines within as soon as two weeks. The plan is to immunize doctors before going to the general public, the country’s health minister said Wednesday. Vaccine production in Russia will be domestic-oriented, geared to covering internal demands, Mikhail Murashko said at a news conference in Moscow giving additional details about the much-anticipated vaccine.

Meanwhile, the Russian Fund of Direct Investment (RDIF) is negotiating the production of the vaccine abroad. Asked about safety, Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology – which developed the pioneering vaccine – said the vaccine is based on a well-researched scientific platform dating back decades.

“The platform has been in development for 25 years for the purpose of gene therapy, but at the end of 2014 it was used to create drugs to fight the most rapidly changing viruses,” he said. Meanwhile Russia has dismissed mounting international concern over the safety of its locally developed Covid-19 vaccine as “absolutely groundless”.

On Tuesday, it said a vaccine had been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans. But experts were quick to raise concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, and a growing list of countries have expressed scepticism. Scientists in Germany, France, Spain and the US have all urged caution.

“It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that… are absolutely groundless,” Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday.

Trump trumpeted hydroxychloroquine

In late March and early April, American President, Donald Trump repeatedly proclaimed that hydroxychloroquine could prevent or treat COVID-19. Reports from the USA show that within days, the number of prescriptions for the drug skyrocketed even though evidence it could safely prevent or treat the disease was at the time very weak.

“A casual remark by a president who is not in any way a medical expert somehow led thousands of U.S. physicians to write prescriptions for a drug that had never before been used to treat a viral illness.”
On March 21 President Trump touted hydroxychloroquine – and its biochemical cousin, chloroquine – as potential “game changers” in the battle against COVID-19. Two months later, he announced on national television that he had been taking the drug himself as a preventative treatment.

Statistics shared from America indicate that during the 10-week period between Feb. 17 and April 27 doctors wrote approximately 483,000 more prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine than in the same time period in 2019. The week after President Trump mentioned the drug during a press conference, prescriptions were up more than 200% compared to the previous year.

“The vast majority of excess prescriptions were written between March 14 and April 4, but as news spread about shortages of the drug and the lack of evidence to support its use, prescribing returned quickly to normal,” reports one of the news hubs based in the USA.

“Research now shows that this once-promising drug likel isn’t effective for preventing or treating COVID 19, but the damage was already done. Hundreds of thousands of Americans unnecessarily took medicine that can have dangerous side effects. Additionally, many people with an actual medical need to take hydroxychloroquine – like those living with lupus and related autoimmune diseases – found themselves unable to obtain the drugs they needed.” In Botswana, thanks to the sagacious Covid-19 Task Team, Batswana stayed away from the politically charged blanket prescription.

Amid all these twists and turns, Botswana has kept it simple, the World Health Organisation (WHO) remains the template. This is notwithstanding the political gymnastics playing out here at home, occasionally giving accretion to social media misinformation; and acerbity in political speeches.

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Households spending to drive economic recovery

17th January 2022

A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.

The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.”  According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.

“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.

Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions.  It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.

“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.

Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.

Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.

According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.”  Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.

It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from.  “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.

Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems.  It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation.  Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.

It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.

“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions.
Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.

“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions.  Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”

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BHC to increase rent again effective 1st April 2022

17th January 2022
BHC

Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) will increase rental prices effective 1st April 2022. Tenants have already received letter of rent increment dated 09 December 2021 signed by the Regional Director, Kesebonye M. J. Khimbele. The letter stated that BHC has completed review of its rentals for implementation in the financial year 2022/2023.

The letter further states that, “the review comes on the backdrop of annual rental adjustments approved for the Corporation affecting all tenants (Government, Local Authorities, Parastatals, Private Companies, individuals and other corporate bodies). To this end, notice is hereby given that with effect from 1st April 2022, the Corporation will adjust current rental for your lease. The new rentals will be payable from 1st April 2022 to 31 March 2023. Please note that all other terms of your lease agreement remain the same including the service charges where applicable.”

BHC sensitized the public about its decision to adjust rent in 2020, they stated that they will be increasing their rentals for the next five years in order to meet the market price. When addressing the media about the decision to increase rent to meet the market rate in 2020. BHC officials indicated that the Corporation decided to increase rent and that the decision was backed by the government. Furthermore, BHC had not increased rent in the past 16 years. The Corporation pointed out that it was time to adjust the rent in order to match the market dynamics.

Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Mmusi Kgafela when addressing the media in 2020 about the decision to increase rent by BHC, stated that it is still priority to ensure that they reach BHC’s objective of being at par with the current rental market rates.
The first increment after the public was addressed by BHC and the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development was last year 1st April, and the second increment will be on the 1st April 2022.

According to BHC website, BHC is a Parastatal under the Ministry of Infrastructure & Housing Development. The Corporation was established by an Act of Parliament (CAP 74.03) of 1971. The Corporation’s explicit mandate is outlined under section 14 of the BHC Act: To provide for the housing, office and other building needs of the government and local authorities; To provide for and to assist and to make arrangements for other persons to meet the requirements above; To undertake and carry-out and to make arrangements for other persons to undertake and carry-out building schemes in Botswana.

Execution of the explicit mandate covers provision of housing to the general population through a variety of initiatives and structures such as: Government housing pool; Sales of houses to government and its agencies; Provision of project management services; Undertaking housing projects for government departments such as the BDF, BURS etc. The Corporation’s implicit mandate is expressed through Government Policy pronouncements; Directives; Economic/business imperatives; Public & other social considerations.

Effective from 1st April 2012, the Corporation’s mandate has been expanded in accordance with Presidential Directive Cab 20 (B)/2010. The directive pronounced that all Government housing implementation programmes be transferred to BHC to operate as Government’s Single Housing Authority (SiHA). In compliance with the directive, BHC is as from 1st April 2012 responsible for the construction of turnkey SHHA projects as well as District Housing and other housing programmes pronounced by government from time to time such as the Public Housing Initiative and Youth Housing Initiative.

In executing the implicit mandate, the Corporation has to raise money through the market to sustain itself. For instance, 1990’s, government announced cessation of PDSF loans to parastatals. This meant that BHC had to do the following: Raise money from financial markets; Diversification of income stream; Reduced dependence on government.

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Thiite, Lesaso, Letsholo tipped for Ministerial posts

17th January 2022

At least three new faces are expected to join cabinet before or during the second meeting of the third session of the 12th parliament scheduled for the 1st of February 2022. This publication is reliably informed that there are currently three names from the backbench that are being assessed by the principals for possible inclusion in the Ministerial bench.

Businessmen in Gantsi North Member of Parliament (MP) John Thiite, Kanye North legislator Thapelo Letsholo and Shoshong MP Aubrey Lesaso are possible candidates for the executive arm of government. The decision on the three, according to informants, pivots on the claim that the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi finds it “very difficult to rope in MPs who have served during the era of ex-President Ian Khama.” It is not clear as to what reasons could be, except that Masisi wants his own team that will diligently articulate his game plan until 2028.

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