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Infectious Diseases

13 June 2020

Coronavirus morning update: 100 days of Covid-19 in SA, and concerns over North West, Gauteng

Cases are increasing at the highest rate since the outbreak began; two North West municipalities may go back to Level 4; and the pandemic is "gaining momentum" in Gauteng.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 61 927.

According to the latest update, 1 354 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 35 008 recoveries.

So far, more than 1.06 million tests have been conducted, with 32 026 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Friday marked exactly 100 days since the first person confirmed to have Covid-19 arrived back in the country from a holiday trip to Italy on 3 March.

Two days later, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the man, from Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal, was the country's first case.

In the 100 days since the man first felt ill and visited his doctor, the country's response has been marked by a scramble to prevent the virus from spreading too far and too fast, a nationwide lockdown and emergency steps to alleviate hunger and job losses as the lockdown had an immediate impact on the economy.

Billions of rand have been poured into unemployment funds, social grants, water supply and food parcels and more billions have been spent on obtaining emergency medical supplies such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing equipment.

READ MORE | 100 days of Covid-19 | Cases are increasing at the highest rate since outbreak began

The North West Department of Health is considering taking two municipalities back to Level 4 due to increasing numbers of Covid-19 infections.

Rustenburg and Matlosana municipalities, where mining activities take place, have recorded a spike in infections.

City Press earlier reported Health MEC Madoda Sambatha said the numbers in North West showed the "direct impact of mining operations" on Covid-19 cases, and emphasised the need for things to be done differently as mining companies brought back most of their employees during Level 3.

Sambatha said he would ask the Provincial Command Council to take Matlosana and Rustenburg municipalities back to Level 4.

He added if it agreed with his proposal, it would be escalated to the National Coronavirus Command Council for approval.

READ MORE | 2 North West municipalities may be taken back to Level 4 due to rising Covid-19 infections

Gauteng needs to face the reality that the Covid-19 pandemic is gaining momentum.

This is the view of the province's premier, David Makhura.

"The pandemic is gaining momentum in the Gauteng province. This is the critical message that I want to send and we have got to face this reality head on and where there is no compliance. This will undo any gains that we made during the lockdown," he said during a virtual Provincial Coronavirus Command Council (PCCC) briefing on Friday.

Makhura added that out of the total cases in the province, more than 3 000 were recorded in just 11 days of the Level 3 lockdown.

READ MORE | Covid-19 pandemic is gaining momentum in Gauteng, says Makhura

With nowhere to go during the national lockdown, many South Africans have cancelled their leave for the winter holiday.

Now companies are getting worried about the build-up of leave days. When the employees eventually leave the company or are retrenched, these days have to be paid out in cash.

Accumulated leave is a liability and must be reflected on the company's balance sheet, warns Pamela Stein from the law firm Webber Wentzel.

It could also cause operational problems.

“The risk is that everyone wants to take time off once the crisis has eased and the economy is starting to recover. That could create a lot of disruption and bottlenecks, just when staff are needed the most,” says Melanie Trollip, director of talent and reward at the risk management and insurance company Willis Towers Watson South Africa.

READ MORE | South Africans are not taking leave in lockdown - and companies are getting worried

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Cases update:

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

Early on Saturday morning, positive cases worldwide more than 7.59 million, while deaths were almost 424 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 2.04 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 114 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Many countries' coronavirus curves are flattening, at least for now.

Yet somehow, the global case-fatality rate has increased significantly since March, when it was around 3.4%. The rate was 5.8% on Tuesday, according to tallies from the World Health Organisation, and it hovered around 7% from mid-April through May.

The trend runs contrary to many experts' earlier expectations: that testing would increase, leading more mild cases to be recorded and the death rate to go down.

But it seems testing has not increased enough to result in a significant downward trajectory.

READ MORE | Scientists predicted that the Covid-19 death rate would fall over time, but it doubled

LATEST RESEARCH

The use of facemasks is now mandatory for all South Africans whenever you venture outside, whether it is for essential errands, work or exercise.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated early during the outbreak that masks are only necessary for those who cough and sneeze in order to help reduce spreading respiratory droplets, the updated guide now distinguishes firmly between medical and non-medical (fabric) masks and states that they should be worn by all to help reduce the risk of infection.

Now, a new modelling study from the Universities of Cambridge and Greenwich suggests that population-wide use of facemasks can reduce the reproduction number (number of further infections per infected person, or the R-naught figure) to 1.0, according to a news release.

The study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A suggested that lockdown alone is simply not enough to reach and maintain a reproduction number of 1.0.

READ MORE | Masks could help reduce Covid-19 spread and prevent a second wave

Countries around the world are slowly lifting hard lockdown restrictions to allow businesses and institutions to open safely without spurring another more severe wave of infections.

Many researchers agree that part of managing the pandemic involves determining who has already been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and built up antibodies.

The method to do this? A reliable, accurate, readily-available antibody test.

There are, however, still a number of questions to be answered about whether an antibody test is possible and whether it will work.

READ MORE | Covid-19 antibody tests: Will they be reliable enough to manage the pandemic in the future?

Some studies have suggested there may be a link between people’s vitamin D levels and Covid-19 outcomes, but leading local experts say there is little evidence to support this.

“For people to be sufficient [in vitamin D] is extremely important, but it’s a completely different issue than [potentially] using vitamin D as a short-term treatment [for Covid-19],” says Professor Marjanne Senekal, Professor in Nutrition Science in the Department of Human Biology at the University of Cape Town.

“Whether we want to correct deficiencies or whether deficiencies have played some other role in this situation, [for] the evidence at this stage people are using what they have which is looking at the vitamin D status of patients retrospectively,” she says.

According to Senekal, there is no evidence to make a recommendation that any amount of vitamin D could treat or prevent Covid-19.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Unpacking the science on vitamin D

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