Infectious Diseases

07 June 2020

Coronavirus morning update: 90-day comparison - where does SA stand, and 'still facing the storm'

A comparison of the first 90 days of the virus in SA, with some of the hardest hit countries in the world; and "we are still facing the storm", says the health minister.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 45 973.

According to the latest update, 952 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 24 258 recoveries.

So far, 891 668 tests have been conducted, with 40 797 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

A comparison of the first 90 days of the Covid-19 epidemic in South Africa with some of the hardest hit countries in the world, shows how the early lockdown in SA prevented thousands of coronavirus cases.

South Africa also managed to conduct more tests in the first 30 days of the epidemic than most economic powerhouses, such as the US and even South Korea, which has been globally recognised as having set the bar for rapid and sufficient testing to clamp down on the transmission of the virus.

While the country was quickly overtaken in terms of testing and confirmed cases by other countries where the epidemic took root much earlier in the year, insight provided by tracking the spread of the virus over the number of days the epidemic has been present, is telling.

The first 90 days of the epidemic in countries such as China, the US, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Russia, when compared to South Africa, shows that South Africa has managed to keep a handle on the transmission of Covid-19 quite successfully.

The US overshadows every other country in terms of its number of cases and the number of tests it has done, but it also shows that SA managed to keep a tighter lid on the epidemic in the first 90 days – although it must be noted SA had far more warning.

Comparatively, South Africa's Day 1 of the epidemic is 5 March, while other countries confirmed cases much earlier in January (Italy, South Korea, US) and February (Russia, Brazil, UK, Spain).

INFOGRAPHICS | The first 90 days of Covid-19: How does SA compare to the world?

The donation of ventilators from the US government is just one step in a plan to treat rising numbers of Covid-19 cases, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Saturday.

The first 20 ventilators, which will form part of a total donation of 1 000 from the US government, have been installed at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

At a ceremony and demonstration of the ventilators at the Soweto hospital, Mkhize said more diagnostic tests were being sourced and the provisions of additional field beds were ongoing across the country.

He added that the health department anticipated a future shortage of oxygen and it was putting in place measures to prevent this.

Mkhize stressed that while lockdown regulations eased, the infection rate was still increasing.

"We are still facing the storm," he said.

READ MORE | 'We are still facing the storm': Mkhize maps out ventilators, field beds for expected Covid-19 peak

Former DA leader Mmusi Maimane and The One SA leader intends going back to court to delay pupils' return to school for at least 60 days, given the current spike in coronavirus cases in the country.

His latest application is set to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria after the Constitutional Court rejected his bid last week to leapfrog the lower courts for direct access.

Maimaine and The One SA hope to get their day in court on 17 June to challenge the decisions of President Cyril Ramaphosa, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

He is focusing on challenging the decision to send children back to school on 8 June, and the change from Level 4 to 3, which allows for greater movement.

READ MORE | Maimane gears up for new Covid-19 schools challenge

Popular Cape Town hiking destination Lion’s Head has been closed with immediate effect, until further notice.

“Due to the nature of the trail, recreational activities are no longer permitted in these areas due to none (sic) compliance by users in accordance to the Alert Level 3 regulations of the Nationwide Lockdown,” announced Table Mountain National Park - which is part of South Africa National Parks (SANParks) - in a tweet.

According to Level 3 regulations, South Africans can only exercise outdoors between 06:00 and 18:00.

They also can’t walk in groups, and have to wear face masks.

READ MORE | Lion’s Head closed due to ‘non-compliant’ hikers


Cases update:

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

Late on Saturday night, positive cases worldwide were 6.8 million, while deaths were more than 362 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1.9 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 109 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

On the first day of her illness in March, Yvonne Karolin was so exhausted, she could barely lift a spoon to her mouth. Within a week, she had shortness of breath, a sore throat, headaches, and a low-grade fever - all symptoms of the coronavirus.

"It is not possible to distinguish COVID-19 from other infections from only the symptoms," the Swedish Public Health Agency website reads. "A laboratory test is required."

But Karolin, a 50-year-old development manager who lives in Stockholm, never got a test.

After calling Sweden's free healthcare hotline, Vårdguiden 1177, she was told to go the hospital. There, she waited two hours in a tent, only to be told by the doctor that the hospital wasn't administering diagnostic tests for COVID-19.

READ MORE | In Sweden, people with coronavirus symptoms say getting a test is nearly impossible


Hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug touted and reportedly used by President Donald Trump as a preventative for Covid-19, appears not to have lived up to its hype, a new study shows.

Unlike some prior studies, this new trial was a "gold standard" prospective, randomised clinical trial. It found that hydroxychloroquine could not prevent Covid-19 any better than a sugar pill.

Worse, 40% of those taking hydroxychloroquine developed side effects including nausea, upset stomach or diarrhoea. Fortunately, no serious side effects or heart problems occurred in the study, the researchers noted. An uptick in risk for potentially dangerous heart rhythm abnormalities had been noted in prior studies in which Covid-19 patients received hydroxychloroquine as a treatment.

For the trial, researchers randomly assigned more than 800 people in the United States and Canada to take hydroxychloroquine, or a placebo, for five days. All of the participants had been exposed to people with Covid-19.

Overall, 12% of those taking hydroxychloroquine developed Covid-19 as did 14% taking the placebo, the findings showed.

This finding was not statistically significant, the study authors noted.

"Our objective was to answer the question of whether hydroxychloroquine worked to prevent disease or did not work," said lead researcher Dr David Boulware, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Minnesota.

"While we are disappointed that this did not prevent Covid-19, we are pleased that we were able to provide a conclusive answer," Boulware said in a university news release. "Our objective was to find an answer."

READ MORE | 'Gold standard' clinical trial finds hydroxychloroquine won't prevent Covid-19

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it's become clear that many people with the infection lose their sense of smell and taste. And doctors are concerned that some will never get back to normal.

At this point, it's hard to know how common the symptom is. First, there were anecdotal reports of Covid-19 patients who had lost their ability to smell or taste, said Dr Nicholas Rowan, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

And then, he said, studies started to confirm "there's a lot of truth to it".

Rowan pointed to one study of patients hospitalised for Covid-19 that used objective tests to detect smell "dysfunction". Nearly all patients – 98% – showed some loss of smell.

But the problem isn't limited to severely ill patients. It appears to be common, and even a "cardinal" symptom, among people with milder Covid-19 infections. Cardinal symptoms are the key ones from which a diagnosis is made.

For example, in a study of European patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19, 86% reported problems with their sense of smell, while a similar percentage had changes in taste perception.

As anyone who's ever had a cold knows, smell and taste are closely intertwined, Rowan said. So the loss of smell – which doctors call anosmia – may be diminishing people's perception of flavours.

But, Rowan noted, it's also possible the coronavirus does have some direct effect on the sense of taste.

READ MORE | Loss of smell and taste might be long-term for some Covid-19 survivors

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