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Infectious Diseases

Updated 02 October 2020

Coronavirus morning recap: Covid has worsened inequality, and schools see significant drop in cases

SA's nationwide lockdown has deepened inequality, researchers say; and schools have seen a decline in Covid-19 cases.

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Silent reinfection of healthcare workers a dangerous reality

Long-term immunity to Covid-19 has been questioned, based on reports of reinfections. And now a case study of two Indian healthcare workers are highlighting an even scarier notion – silent reinfection.

Published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers report two unique cases where two asymptomatic healthcare workers were reinfected months later with a genetically different strain of the coronavirus – again without showing any symptoms.

This is the first time that scientists report reinfection cases where both infections presented no symptoms. In previous reports, symptoms showed up in either the first, second or both infections.

The two healthcare workers' asymptomatic Covid-19 infections were detected in routine surveillance while working in Covid-19 wards in North India.

The 25-year-old man and 28-year-old woman were both first diagnosed in May. Despite showing no symptoms, they were hospitalised as per policy at the time.

They tested negative about 10 days later and returned to work. In August and September, respectively, they tested positive again, months after the first infection.

READ | Covid-19 has made inequality worse, researchers find

The Covid-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown have deepened inequality, especially in the job market and education, according to a major survey released on Wednesday.

An alarming finding of the National Income Dynamics Study - Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) was the job losses may be long-lasting.

The 2.8 million jobs lost after February had not been recovered by June, according to this second NIDS-CRAM survey, based on the responses of 5 700 people.

If these job losses persist, it said, more than a decade's worth of job gains would have been destroyed in six months, GroundUp reported.

"The evidence to date suggests that these losses may be long-lasting," the researchers said. The survey presentation material included a quote from Vladimir Lenin to highlight the devastation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown imposed to limit its spread.

"There are decades where nothing happens and weeks where decades happen," according to Lenin.

NIDS-CRAM researchers found about one million people, who lost their jobs during the pandemic, had fallen into poverty.

"The Covid-19 pandemic is a health crisis that will exacerbate the South African unemployment crisis," they said.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 676 084.

According to the latest update, 16 866 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 609 854 recoveries.

So far, more than 4.2 million tests have been conducted, with over 21 000 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Early on Friday morning, positive cases worldwide were over 34.1 million, while deaths were more than 1 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 7.2 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 208 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | ‘Our choices will determine what’s to come’, says SA medical expert on potential second wave

Despite South Africa moving to alert Level 1 lockdown in September, and being the country with the 10th highest recovery rate (90%) in the world, experts are warning that there is still the potential of a second wave of Covid-19 infections – but that a behaviour change can avert it from happening.

Speaking at a virtual webinar by MTN South Africa on 30 September, Professor Alex Welte, an epidemiologist at the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis, University of Stellenbosch, shed light on where we are, and what needs to be done going forward.

When we look at what’s actually happening in the Covid-19 epidemic and what processes are available to us, there are a number of things to consider, explained Welte, including that the virus mainly spreads via respiratory droplets, although the jury is still out on other ways of transmission, such as aerosol transmission.

“Where exactly Covid-19 is on the spectrum is still controversial, but we have to be careful. We can’t have the final answer on what the correct restrictive measures are to impose, but beneath all this complexity, there are sensible questions we can all engage with,” said Welte.

“We do know that having the virus once gives you immunity for a good period of time. If that were not the case, there would have been a lot of people who had it multiple times,” commented Welte, adding that having contracted the virus twice is by far the exception and not the norm, although scientists are still trying to determine how long the immunity lasts.

In terms of where we are at now, Welte explained that we’ve got to look at the bigger picture.

READ | Dodgy Gauteng Covid-19 tenders: We want the money back, Makhura warns corrupt officials

Gauteng Premier David Makhura on Thursday vowed that action would be taken against every corrupt official involved in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as those who allowed it to happen.

Makhura on Wednesday placed the head of the provincial health department, Professor Mkhululi Lukhele, on precautionary suspension with immediate effect.

Makhura's office said he was acting on the recommendations of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), following the presentation of an update report on 22 September 2020.

On Thursday, the premier reiterated that the SIU's recommendations would be acted on.

"I want to make sure we hold everybody accountable for the wrong that has happened. We've got to tackle this decisively and rise to the occasion."

Makhura said, in addition to Lukhele, another senior official was implicated in the SIU's latest report. The person was a deputy director-general in the health department and had also been suspended, albeit by the accounting officer and not himself, Makhura said.

"The report identified things they must be held accountable for and a disciplinary process is under way," the premier said.

READ | Hardly any schools being closed and reopened - Motshekga on decline in Covid-19 cases at schools

The Department of Basic Education has said it has seen a significant decline in Covid-19 cases at schools, hence hardly any schools have been closed and reopened.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said they hardly saw any school closures, and this can be attributed to the adherence to the revised standard operating procedures.

"We are encouraged and humbled by what we see in schools," Motshekga said during a media briefing on Thursday.

Even though Motshekga praised the work done by schools, she said they were concerned that some pupils had not returned to school yet.

It has been four months since schools reopened, following the announcement of the hard lockdown in March, and it has been one month since all grades have returned to school.

"In the schools that we visited, the return rate is between 80% and 90%," Motshekga said.

She added: "While it is encouraging to see the numbers increase gradually, we appeal to parents to release their children to return to school."

She announced that the Grade 12 exams will start on 5 November and end on 15 December.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | France to enroll 25 000 in Covid-19 vaccines clinical trials

France called for 25 000 adult volunteers on Thursday to enroll in a series of large-scale clinical trials aimed at evaluating the safety and efficacy of several Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

The Phase II and III trials, which could start as soon as this month, will take place at 24 hospitals across the country. Volunteers are invited to register online.

There is currently no internationally approved vaccine to prevent Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, which has killed over 1 million worldwide.

France's public research body Inserm, which is in charge of the project, did not name the vaccines that would be assessed and said it was currently holding discussions with drug makers, adding it would pick the "most promising" candidates for the trials.

READ | Covid-19 wrap | Serbia to review death rate, India court orders airlines to refund lockdown bookings

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is not trying to scare people with Covid-19 restrictions but simply to move early in an attempt to limit the potential economic damage of a much more serious outbreak, a minister said on Thursday.

"We're not really trying to scare people," Environment Secretary George Eustice told Talk Radio.

"What we're attempting to do through this is to act early, and in a targeted way in response tolocal outbreaks."

"We're trying to strike this ... difficult balance of acting early in a targeted way rather than waiting for the disease to get fully out of control," he added.

In other international news, the chief of the Madrid region pushed back against the Spanish government's plan to confine the capital city to tackle a surge in Covid-19 cases, saying: "You cannot lock down everybody," on Thursday.

The health ministry said late on Wednesday that the central government was overriding regional authorities and would impose a lockdown of the city of over 3 million people and some surrounding towns in the coming days.

But Madrid region chief Isabel Diaz Ayuso rejected the move, saying the committee that took the decision had no legal authority to do so without a consensus.

"You cannot lock down everybody," Diaz Ayuso said on esRadio. "I'm sure the Madrid (region) plan is the best: quick tests, quarantines and life goes on."

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.

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