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Infectious Diseases

26 September 2020

Coronavirus morning recap: Silk masks, life expectancy, and Europe's second wave

Silk may may be a breathable, effective material for homemade masks; the pandemic is expected to lower global life expectancy; and Europe's second wave is here.

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Want a breathable, yet effective homemade mask? Use silk, study suggests

As masks are becoming mandatory all over the world, authorities have asked people to use homemade cloth masks instead of single-use surgical and N95 masks that are needed by medical staff.

Face coverings from all materials and shapes are being used. And while all face coverings offer a measure of protection against large and small respiratory droplets, a team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati wanted to examine the efficacy of different household fabrics.

The study, which was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, wanted to determine what practices would be most effective in practice. The researchers examined cotton, polyester and silk by their resistance to the penetration of small and aerosolised water drops.

They also investigated the breathability of the fabrics, and how they would fare if they were washed repeatedly. In the laboratory, they used the materials as an overlaying barrier for respirators, as well as face coverings. The team then looked at the penetration and absorption of droplets – and observed that silk faired the best, both as a barrier and in terms of breathability.

"Cotton traps moisture like a sponge. But silk is breathable. It's thinner than cotton and dries really fast," said Patrick Guerra, an assistant professor of biology at UC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

It’s not only the fact that silk is dense and breathable that made the researchers take note.

Silk contains elements of copper from silk moths, which could contribute to fighting bacteria and viruses. Studies have shown that copper can kill bacteria and has antiviral properties.

READ | Coronavirus is expected to lower global life expectancy

Death and disease have been one of the hallmarks of 2020, and Covid-19's global impact will be felt for years, maybe even decades to come.

In one of the many ways it has changed our lives, it might also have shifted the trajectory of human life expectancy around the world according to research published in PLOS ONE.

In real life, as of 22 September 2020, there have almost been one million global deaths in total as a result of Covid-19, with the US in the lead followed by Brazil, India, Mexico and the UK.

South Africa has had almost 16 000 deaths, although global totals are expected to be higher due to limited testing and reporting, unknown factors surrounding asymptomatic spread, and the fact that countries have different methods and criteria for counting Covid-19 deaths.

"Previous epidemics such as the 1918 influenza pandemic and the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak resulted in a drop in life expectancy at birth of as many as 11.8 years and 1.6–5.6 years in the USA and Liberia, respectively," explain the researchers.

"In severely affected countries, an unprecedented surge in mortality from Covid-19 may result in significant years of life lost." This is especially true when you think of the number of other life-threatening diseases that have taken a backseat in the pandemic, and might contribute to the decline in life expectancy.

Unfortunately, figuring out by how much the current pandemic will shorten our lives isn't easy. While it disproportionately affects older sections of the population, people of all ages are affected.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 668 529.

According to the latest update, 16 312 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 599 149 recoveries.

So far, more than more than 4.11 million tests have been conducted, with 14 917 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

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

Late on Friday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 32.38 million, while deaths were more than 985 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - almost 7.02 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 203 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | Mkhize disbands Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 'out of the blue'

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has effectively disbanded government's chief scientific advisory committee on Covid-19.

News24 has seen a letter sent to members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 on Friday, dated 21 September, in which Mkhize expressed his "gratitude and appreciation" for the commitment and dedication of members.

"Your contribution has led to the containment of Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa and the reduction of mortality of the citizens of South Africa. The new members of the MAC will assume duty soon," the letter reads.

The committee is chaired by Professor Salim Abdool Karim and was established early during the outbreak of Covid-19 in April to advise Mkhize.

Karim's status as chairperson is unclear.

While it appears the entire 50-member MAC has been affected, at the time of writing News24 had confirmed that 14 members of the MAC had received letters, including South Africa's Covid-19 vaccine trial leading researcher Professor Shabir Madhi, and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council Professor Glenda Gray.

READ | Covid-19 in Gauteng: New infections decreasing but risk of transmission still high, warns govt

The Gauteng provincial command council has noted a decline in new Covid-19 infections, but warned that the risk of transmitting the virus is still high as restrictions have been eased.

The country moved to Level 1 lockdown from Sunday at midnight.

"There has been a gradual but steady decline in [the] number of new infections and hospitalisations.

"Government and social partners continue to work hard to improve the capacity of the health care system to cope with the demand for hospital care now and post Covid-19," the command council said in an update on Friday.

Despite this progress, residents of South Africa's economic hub were reminded that the fight against the virus is far from over and the risk of transmission following the easing of restrictions still remains high.

The command council said: "There is still no vaccine, the only way we can contain the spread of Covid-19 is through non-pharmaceutical interventions. We all have to play our part to protect ourselves and those around us."

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Covid-19: Europe's second wave is here - and some countries have worse outbreaks than in March, says EU

France and the UK recorded their highest daily Covid-19 cases since the global outbreak began, and the EU warned that some of its countries now have worse outbreaks than they had in March.

Stella Kyriakides, the EU's health commissioner Stella Kyriakides warned on Thursday that in "some member states, the situation is now even worse than during the peak in March."

Taken together, the developments point to the feared second wave of the pandemic having arrived in Europe.

There are differences from the first wave in spring. While infections have increased, the number of deaths has not risen so sharply.

Also, the ability of officials to test and keep track of the number of infections has increased, meaning that the daily figures are now a better reflection of how the virus is spreading.

In the first wave, testing systems were only able to capture a small portion of those infected.

READ | UK supermarkets are rationing toilet paper and hand sanitiser as fears of panic buying return

British grocery chains Tesco and Morrisons have started rationing essential items over fears that stricter lockdown measures will send shoppers into a panic.

Supermarkets limited sales of certain goods earlier in the pandemic, and Morrisons became the first major grocer to reintroduce these measures when it said on Thursday that customers could only buy three of certain products. These included pasta, soup, hand wash, and hand sanitiser, as well as multipacks of toilet paper and kitchen roll.

One checkout worker at Morrisons who wished to remain anonymous said customers had been stocking up on canned food and toilet roll. They described their store was "worse than a bad Christmas, it was horrible."

Tesco imposed its own three-item limits on Friday morning for flour, dried pasta, toilet rolls, baby wipes, and anti-bacterial wipes, the grocer confirmed to Business Insider. The limit extends to a small number of products online, such as rice and canned vegetables, it added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced stricter lockdown measures on Tuesday, including a 10 p.m. curfew for pubs and restaurants, and extending the use of face masks. Officer workers were also told to work from home wherever possible.

Social media users began posting images of empty shelves on Monday, when rumours of the stricter measures began to emerge, and toilet paper sales rose 23% in the week to Tuesday, The Guardian reported.

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.

Image credit: Getty Images