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Infectious Diseases

26 August 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Alcohol sales ban 'fake news', and Covid-19 antibody tests now legal

Rumours alleging the ban on the sale of alcohol was to be be reinstated not true; and the national Department of Health has confirmed that antibody testing is now legal.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 613 017.

According to the latest update, 13 308 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 520 381 recoveries.

So far, a total of 3.57 million tests have been conducted, with 12 237 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Rumours that have surfaced alleging the ban on the sale of alcohol will be reinstated on Tuesday evening are not true.

This is according to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) spokesperson Lungi Mtshali, who confirmed to News24 the rumours are nothing more than "fake news".

Mtshali added that these rumours appeared to benefit the alcohol industry and that, as people started to rush to stock up at bottle stores, issues of physical distancing arose.

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu also confirmed that Ramaphosa would not be addressing the nation on Tuesday evening and that the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) had not taken a decision to prohibit the sale of alcohol.

The NCCC did indeed meet on Tuesday, which was confirmed by a statement by the Presidency, postponing Ramaphosa's planned engagement with the South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef).

"The Presidency has requested the postponement to allow the president to attend to engagements that include today's meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council," acting spokesperson for the president, Tyrone Seale, said.

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula also postponed his briefing on the new transport regulations and directives as a result of the NCCC sitting.

Spokesperson and attorney for the Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA) Ashton Mooney also quelled fears about the ban, saying the rumours were untrue.

READ MORE | FAKE NEWS: Alcohol sales ban will not be reinstated, confirms Cogta

The national Department of Health has confirmed that antibody testing is now legal in South Africa.

News24 first reported on this story after a staff member had blood drawn at a commercial private healthcare facility, Lancet Laboratories, on the afternoon of Monday, 24 August.

On Monday evening, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced: "Today I am pleased to announce that the director-general for health has issued guidelines for the use of SARS CoV 2 antibody tests and that Sahpra announced its approval of several test kits, both lab based and point of care or bedside rapid tests.

"I am sure this is a very welcome development and I would like to especially thank the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 and the various members of the strategic management bodies in the Department of Health for all the hard work that has gone into ensuring that antibody tests are used appropriately and effectively as we continue to battle Covid-19. It will be important to understand the limitations of antibody testing."

The department's announcement follows a week of confusion in which antibody tests were first advertised by private laboratory companies, and then withdrawn days later, pending the release of a national algorithm.

READ MORE | Health Minister Zweli Mkhize confirms Covid-19 antibody tests are now legal

Under level 2 of lockdown, weddings and other public functions, including exhibitions, are now permitted.

On Tuesday, new regulations for these events were gazetted, confirming that only 50 people are allowed to attend any event, including marriages and wedding celebrations.

All attendees – which would include the couple who tie the knot – have to wear masks at all times, unless they are eating or drinking.

There is no relaxation of the mask rule to enable couples to kiss at the end of a wedding ceremony.

The regulations also require that the wedding or function organiser, and the owner or manager of the venue must ensure physical distancing of at least one and a half metres between guests.

READ MORE | All the new rules for weddings – and brides must wear masks

Under the new lockdown level 2 regulations, gyms in South Africa could reopen last week, for the first time in almost five months.

Planet Fitness and some of the smaller chains allowed members back last week, while Virgin Active – South Africa’s biggest gym group with 700 000 members – reopened on Monday.

The first day back did not go smoothly. Only 50 people are allowed in the gym at any time, and members were encouraged to book a one-hour slot via its app and website, to prevent arriving at an at-capacity gym, and having to wait your turn – but the booking system crashed over the weekend.

Despite not being able to book, I went to my local gym in Wembley Square, Cape Town on Monday afternoon. Fortunately, there wasn't a waiting list or queue.

On arrival, I had my temperature checked and hands sanitised.

READ MORE| What it's like to be back at the gym: it's eerily quiet and sweat towels are banned

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.

Late on Tuesday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 23.73 million, while deaths were more than 815 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - 5.76 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 178 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Bali, which originally planned to reopen its borders to international travellers on September 11, will remain closed to visitors as governments around the world continue to grapple with the coronavirus during the vacation season.

But instead of worrying of travelers bringing in the coronavirus, it's the island's recent surge in native cases of the virus that led the government to reconsider allowing travelers into the province.

"The Indonesian government couldn't reopen its doors to foreign travellers until the end of 2020 as we remain a red zone," said Bali Governor Wayan Koster in a statement, as reported by Bloomberg. "The situation is not conducive to allowing foreign tourists to come to Indonesia, including to Bali."

In April, Bloomberg reported that the Indonesian government said the industry will lose roughly $10 billion, a number that could grow as the country had originally slated to be open this fall.

Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardana Sukawati, Bali's vice-governor and former chair of the island's hotel and restaurant association, told CNN Travel the popular island destination known for its beaches has seen significant losses since the start of the pandemic. The island has lost $650 million every month since the country closed down earlier this year. In a normal year, the island sees around 6 million tourists.

Sukawati noted that most tourist attractions are outdoors and private villas help encourage social distancing when the country does reopen. The government has yet to give a specific date as to when Bali will begin accepting international visitors again.

Indonesia isn't the only country that is restricting travel until the next year.

READ MORE | Bali won't allow international visitors until at least 2021 as the island sees a spike in coronavirus cases

LATEST RESEARCH

In a comprehensive study of Covid-19 paediatric patients by the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Mass General Hospital for Children (MGHfC), in the United States, researchers in the study found that children may play a larger role in community transmission of the virus than initially thought.

The research team analysed the viral load, immune response and hyperinflammation in 192 paediatric patients between the ages of 0–22. Their paper was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is higher in the case of infected people with a higher viral load. But to gain a deeper understanding, researchers examined the viral load, expression of the viral receptor, and antibody response in healthy children, children with acute SARS-CoV-2 infection, and a smaller number of children with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

Formerly called paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PMS), MIS-C describes a relatively new, multi-organ, systemic infection seen in children several weeks after Covid-19 infection.

Of the total 192 patients, 49 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, while an additional 18 were found to have late-onset, Covid-19-related illness.

A significantly higher level of virus was also found in the airways of the infected children, compared to hospitalised adults in ICUs (intensive care units) for Covid-19 treatment.

READ MORE | Children are silent spreaders of Covid-19 virus, new research suggests

In the months since Covid-19 emerged, medical experts have learned a lot about the threat it poses to people with issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular disease.

But much of the essential advice remains the same: Take the coronavirus seriously. Do all you can to avoid catching it. And never ignore symptoms of a heart attack, stroke or other condition that should be treated in an emergency room.

More is being learned every day. And not all the news is grim.

For example, "it does not look like cardiovascular disease makes people more likely to get the virus," said Dr Mitchell Elkind, professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University in New York City. "It's more that it makes the course of it potentially worse."

Data released in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Covid-19 patients with underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease are six times more likely to be hospitalised and 12 times more likely to die than patients without any chronic health problems. About one in three people with Covid-19 has cardiovascular disease, making it the most common underlying health condition.

SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. But it's not just a lung disease, said Elkind, president of the American Heart Association.

READ MORE | What do heart patients need to know about Covid-19 now?

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