Infectious Diseases

19 May 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Backing for govt on pandemic response - but others are suing

Your latest coronavirus news: Science-based governmental leadership has saved many lives in SA, according to the Academy of Science of South Africa - saying the response to the pandemic has been effective; but, a number of cases have been brought to court challenging aspects of the coronavirus lockdown regulations.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 16 433.

According to the latest update, 286 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 7 298 recoveries

So far, more than 475 000 tests have been conducted, with just short of 14 200 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Despite the fast-moving and uncertain context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the strong, science-based governmental leadership has saved many lives in South Africa, according to the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf).

ASSAf, which is the only statutory academy in the country established to provide the government and the general public with evidence-based advice on issues of pressing national concern, released a statement on Monday to state its position on Covid-19 and the country's response to it.

The academy said the government's response had been effective and it had been rightly acknowledged, both nationally and internationally. "At the moment, the rate of growth of infections and death rates in South Africa is among the lowest in the world and also among BRICS countries.

"ASSAf recognises and applauds the South African government for underlining the fact that the national strategy has been based on scientific evidence and guided by the advice of scientists," the organisation said.

READ MORE | SA science organisation lauds govt for its response to coronavirus pandemic

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday said every South African had the right to approach the courts and that even he, as president, could never stand in the way of anybody exercising that right.

This comes after a number of cases have been brought to court challenging aspects of the coronavirus lockdown regulations, such as the sale of cigarettes, the military-enforced night curfew, the ban on e-commerce and the restriction on exercise hours.

In his weekly newsletter on Monday, the president said: "While we would prefer to avoid the need for any legal action against government, we should accept that citizens who are unhappy with whatever action that government has decided on implementing have a right to approach our courts for any form of relief they seek.

"This is a normal tenet of a constitutional democracy and a perfectly acceptable practice in a country founded on the rule of law."

READ MORE | From cigarettes to curfews: Who is suing government and why

The City of Cape Town says it has developed a dynamic economic and social recovery plan post Covid-19 lockdown. In a statement on Monday, Mayor Dan Plato said the metro continued to adjust its economic impact modelling and scenarios, and working closely with small and big business to minimise the loss of employment.

"We will continue to prioritise the safety of our residents, while responsibly calling for the opening up of our economy because we simply cannot allow our economy to be stalled any longer.

"All of this forms part of the Dynamic Operating Framework that was rapidly developed and adopted during the early days of the lockdown, and continues to be tweaked as new data becomes available," Plato said.

The City also assured residents it was doing all it could to ensure that service delivery was taking place.

READ MORE | Covid-19: We cannot allow our economy to be stalled any longer, says Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato  

It was sealed with a kiss from his wife - the story of a Covid-19 survivor, who walked out of hospital a healthy man.

Bathandwa Zuzo was hit hard by Covid-19, but has lived to tell the tale. On Monday, he walked out of Melomed private hospital in Gatesville, Cape Town.

"The nurses, the doctors, who were supporting me - I am here because of them. I am alive because of them," said a grateful Zuzo, 48.

It was on April 26, one month into the lockdown, that he fell ill. He tested positive for the coronavirus and was admitted to hospital.

READ MORE | WATCH | 'I am alive because of them' - Covid-19 survivor grateful to Cape Town hospital staff


Cases update:

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

Late on Monday night, positive cases worldwide were close to 4.77 million, while deaths were almost 317 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1.5 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 90 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

A new video shows just how easy it is to spread germs using nothing but fluorescent paint and a buffet spread.

In the video, produced by a team at St.Marianna University School of Medicine in Kawasaki, Japan, and the broadcasting company NHK, 10 people were told they were going to enjoy a lunch buffet, with a catch.

One person rubbed fluorescent paint into their hands, to mimic germs one might get from coughing on their hand, Metro UK reported.

The group then went about the buffet as they normally would.

But at the end of the meal, the overhead lights were turned off, and a UV light was flipped on.

Immediately, they could see paint glowing all over the room - on the person who'd been given the paint, and their silverware, but also on other participants' hands, faces, plates, and cutlery.

READ MORE | A new video shows how fast one person's germs can spread at a buffet 


From the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, health authorities have listed people older than 60 and those with chronic disease in the high-risk category for coronavirus.

Now, investigators reported that a group of tiny RNA that would usually attack SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, as soon as it tries to infect the body, diminish with age and chronic health problems.

MicroRNAs are a class of non-coding DNA that play a role in gene expression in our bodies. Gene expression is a tightly regulated function in the body where a cell is allowed to respond to its changing environment.

A simple example of this in the human body is when microRNAs control insulin expression and release a signal that blood glucose needs to be regulated.

When we refer to “measuring” your gene expression, it’s the ability to see at what level a particular gene will be expressed, for example, how likely you are to develop a certain type of cancer.

With ageing, and in the case of chronic disease, the levels of microRNAs that are responsible for so many regulations in your body are starting to dwindle, which also affects your ability to fight off various infections from bacteria and viruses, according to Dr Carlos M. Isales, co-director of the MCG Center for Healthy Aging and chief of the MCG Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism.

READ MORE | Why are certain people more at risk if infected with Covid-19? Scientists may have a clue

As of 15 May, South Africa has a total of 12 739 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 238 confirmed deaths. The SA Coronavirus website’s latest media release indicates that by 14 May, more than 403 000 tests had been conducted in the country. News24 also recently reported that the Solidarity Fund approved funding for 400 000 Covid-19 test kits costing R250 million to support increased testing for the deadly virus across the country.

However, a guidance document – published on 13 May by the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa’s (CMSA) Covid-19 Evidence-based Guidance Task Team and CMSA’s CEO, Professor Eric Buch – advises limiting testing in the country for two reasons:

- Reducing unnecessary testing means that we can preserve test kits for those environments where it is needed most.

- Limiting testing means reducing the burden on laboratories, which will ultimately ensure more rapid turn-around times. According to the document, which references an article by Spotlight, the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) aims to conduct 15 000 tests daily.

However, it has been difficult to achieve this due to logistical issues, as well as a lack of test reagent and viral extraction kits. In recent weeks, however, testing has been ramped up - and more than 21 000 new tests were reported to have been conducted on Sunday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies testing and tracing people infected Covid-19 a vital measure in order to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

However, delays in receiving test results, the authors of the CMSA document mention, greatly hampers the ability to follow this recommendation. Currently, the average turn-around time for laboratory sample results can range from two to seven days. Earlier this month, Bhekisisa reported that a national backlog has meant that some patients may wait up to ten days.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Call to reduce 'unnecessary' screening and testing in SA - and to target areas of concern

Panic ensued earlier during the coronavirus pandemic when cases of dogs testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 were reported in Hong Kong.

Animal shelters and rescue organisations worldwide had to plead that owners don't abandon their dogs, as dogs cannot spread the virus to humans.

Now, researchers who studied the genomic link suspect that the infection was passed from owner to dog, according to Malik Peiris, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, and main author of the study published in the journal Nature.

There was no evidence that dogs could pass the infection to other dogs or people, but Peiris stated that they needed to consider every possibility.

According to Arjan Stegeman, a veterinary epidemiologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, it’s unlikely that people with Covid-19 will infect their dogs, even though the studies show it might be possible.

Other scientists, however, did report to Nature that pets might be able to spread the virus among each other, and that this risk needed to be researched for management in future outbreaks.

READ MORE | Dogs may catch coronavirus from owners, but won't infect humans

Spraying disinfectant on the streets, as practised in some countries, does not eliminate the new coronavirus and even poses a health risk, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned.

In a document on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces as part of the response to the virus, the WHO says spraying can be ineffective.

"Spraying or fumigation of outdoor spaces, such as streets or marketplaces, is... not recommended to kill the Covid-19 virus or other pathogens because disinfectant is inactivated by dirt and debris," explains the WHO.

"Even in the absence of organic matter, chemical spraying is unlikely to adequately cover all surfaces for the duration of the required contact time needed to inactivate pathogens."

The WHO said that streets and pavements are not considered as "reservoirs of infection" of Covid-19, adding that spraying disinfectants, even outside, can be "dangerous for human health".

The document also stresses that spraying individuals with disinfectants is "not recommended under any circumstances".

READ MORE | Spraying disinfectants can be 'harmful', says WHO

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.

READ MORE: Coronavirus 101 

Image credit: Getty Images