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Infectious Diseases

16 October 2020

Coronavirus morning recap: Top 3 Covid-19 conspiracy theories, and Ramaphosa announces rescue plan

Scientists explored the top three Covid-19 conspiracy theories most likely to be believed; and President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a post-Covid economic recovery plan.

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Scientists looked at susceptibility to fake news – here are the top 3 Covid-19 conspiracies

The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled misinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories so much so that leading tech companies, like Google and Facebook, have had to work hard to prevent this.

Now an international study by researchers from the University of Cambridge in England, has identified some prominent conspiracy theories that have gained traction among five different countries' populations: the UK, the US, Ireland, Mexico and Spain.

Their findings reveal the top three conspiracy theories as the following:

  • The Covid-19 virus was engineered in a Wuhan laboratory – this was deemed the most valid across the board.
  • The pandemic is "part of a plot to enforce global vaccination".
  • There is a 5G conspiracy that some wireless communications worsen Covid-19 symptoms.

The study was published this month in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

For the study, the research team gathered data from national samples in each of the five countries and asked participants to rate the reliability of various statements, including six popular myths about Covid-19.

They found that while a large majority of participants surveyed in all five countries believed misinformation was unreliable, some conspiracy theories were believed by a significantly high proportion.

"In addition, a small group of participants find common factual information about the virus highly unreliable," they wrote.

In terms of the conspiracy that the virus was engineered in a laboratory, between 22-23% of respondents in the UK and US rated this assertion as "reliable". In Ireland this increased to 26%, while in Mexico and Spain it jumped to 33% and 37% respectively.

READ | A Chinese company is giving free shots of its unproven Covid-19 vaccine to students going abroad - report

A state-owned Chinese company is giving away free shots of its unproven Covid-19 vaccines to students going abroad to study, according to The Wall Street Journal.

China National Biotec Group (CNBG), part of the drugs giant Sinopharm, began offering inoculations of its two developmental vaccines — which are in the final stage of testing — in September, the Journal said.

Neither of the vaccines have been approved for general use, according to the Journal. It said the application process made no mention that the vaccines were still in clinical trials.

Vaccines usually undergo several stages of formalized trials before being allowed for mass use. The trials are meant to ensure that the vaccine works, and also that it does not cause harmful side effects, which sometimes only occur in a tiny proportion of people and take time to emerge.

A woman preparing to move to the UK for a master's degree, identified as Chen, told the Journal that she was injected on Monday, having signed up in early October.

"I don't know about the effectiveness, but it looks safe at least as of now," she said.

Chen said that she was only made aware that the vaccine was still under development when she was asked to sign a consent form when she went to get injected.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 698 184.

According to the latest update, 18 309 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 628 301 recoveries.

So far, more than 4.4 million tests have been conducted, with 22 609 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 more than 38.7 million, while deaths were close to 1.1 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - over 7.9 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 218 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ| Ramaphosa’s rescue plan – here are the new announcements

On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced government’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan, which Treasury reckons should help to raise growth to around 3% on average over the next 10 years.

South Africa’s pandemic-hit economy is expected to shrink by at least 8% this year, with more than two million people losing their jobs in the second quarter.

“This economic shock is unprecedented in our country, and it will take an extraordinary effort to recover from it,” Ramaphosa said in parliament.

“As even the darkest of clouds has a silver lining, we need to see this moment as a rupture with the past and an opportunity to drive fundamental and lasting change.”

There wasn’t that much new in his plan, however, with the major infrastructure projects he spoke about, already gazetted and some of them under way.

He did make new announcements on state sector jobs that will be created in the next few months, and an end-date for the Covid unemployment grant. In the next few months, 300 000 work opportunities will be created for young people to serve as education and school assistants.

Ramaphosa says this will help teachers with “basic and routine work” so that more time is spent on teaching and enabling learners to catch up from time lost because of Covid.

More than 60 000 jobs will be created for labour-intensive maintenance and construction of municipal infrastructure and rural roads. An additional 6 000 community health workers and nursing assistants will be deployed as South Africa proceeds with the implementation of National Health Insurance, Ramaphosa announced.

“Each of these work opportunities is fully funded and ready for implementation,” Ramaphosa said.

Other jobs will be created in provincial and local governments “contributing to cleaner, greener and safer public spaces and improved maintenance of facilities”.

READ | Tin Roof party: Covid-19 cases now stand at 89

The number of Covid-19 cases linked to an event at Cape Town's Tin Roof bar has increased from 73 to 89.

They were traced after an event at the bar in Claremont was found to be the common thread in anew cluster of cases.

Of that cluster, 38 of those infected are in matric.Across the entire sub-district (including both the event as well as infections outside it), 65 pupils were infected, of which 44 are matriculants from eight schools.

The remaining six contracted it elsewhere.

The investigation into the outbreak at the bar has not been completed.

The cluster was picked up by a general practitioner who contacted other doctors and then the Western Cape health department.

They are mostly understood to have mild symptoms."This is where individual responsible behaviour and collective responsible behaviour comes together," department head Keith Cloete said in a digital briefing.

He added there were other places where young people got together, so the team was examining whether there were other potential "seeding" events.

The Western Cape government's concern about the matriculants is they might have to wait until next year for a second opportunity to write their final exams, which are coming up soon, if they get sick.

Cloete said cases in the province peaked in June and July, and were in decline, but there was a slight increase in the last week or so.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Covid-19 wrap : WHO warns Europe virus surge of 'great concern', global death toll at 1 093 384

Turkey identified 1 693 new symptomatic cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, data from the Health Ministry showed on Thursday, as Ankara continues to only report the number of those who show symptoms.

The total number of patients increased to 324 143 as of Thursday, while the death toll increased by 66 to 9 080.

An interview in the Hurriyet daily over the weekend with Health Minister Fahrettin Koca led to speculation that Ankara may start announcing the number of all those who test positive for the novel coronavirus.

A clarification issued by the columnist on Monday explained that Koca's comments that Ankara would share all positive cases referred only to cross-sectional studies that are conducted.

Koca said last month that Turkey had only been reporting symptomatic coronavirus cases, after doctors and politicians had expressed concern that cases in the country were underreported for months. After Koca's announcement, the WHO called for the reporting of Covid-19 data in line with WHO guidelines in order to harmonise data collection and response measures.

Turkey had been isolating all positive cases regardless of symptoms, the WHO said.

Turkey's top medical association and the main opposition party criticised the government's decision to only disclose the number of symptomatic patients.

President Tayyip Erdogan urged Turkey's parliament on Wednesday to legislate to curb the influence of medical associations and other institutions that have criticised his government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

READ | London will go into local lockdown from Friday with household mixing banned

Household mixing will be banned in London as of midnight on Friday after Boris Johnson's UK government said that the English capital would be moved into the "high" Covid-19 tier amid rising new infections, the capital's members of parliament have been told.

As of Saturday, Londoners will be prohibited from mixing with other households in homes and other indoor settings, including hospitality venues, after the UK government agreed with London mayor Sadiq Khan that the city required tougher restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

UK health minister Helen Whateley announced the news to London members of Parliament in a call on Thursday morning, with Prime Minister Johnson expected to confirm it in a statement later in the day.

People in the capital will be allowed to continue visiting pubs, bars, and restaurants, but only with people from the same household.

Khan has been pushing for London's alert status to changed from "medium" to "high" and had a meeting with UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty on Wednesday, the Times of London reports.

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