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Infectious Diseases

30 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Cigarette ban 'smoke and mirrors', different Covid rules for W Cape?

BATSA says the cigarette ban is an 'exercise in smoke and mirrors', in a court filing; and the Western Cape needs a "differentiated approach" to Covid-19, argues its premier.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 471 123.

According to the latest update, 7 497 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 297 967 recoveries.

So far, more than 2.87 million tests have been conducted, with 42 528 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

South Africa's largest cigarette manufacturer, British American Tobacco, says the state's justification for banning the sale of tobacco products during lockdown is an "exercise in smoke and mirrors" that has produced "few benefits and immense harm".

BATSA is set to challenge the ban in the Western Cape High Court next month.

The government defeated an earlier court challenge to unban cigarettes from the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association in June, with the court ruling that it fell within the powers of the state under the Disaster Management Act to ban the sale of tobacco.

But BATSA, whose brands include Dunhill, Peter Stuyvesant, and Lucky Strike, says it will be introducing new legal arguments not heard in the FITA case.

The sale of cigarettes and tobacco products has remained prohibited since the start of the nationwide lockdown in late March, despite strong pushback from the tobacco industry about the potential for job losses, the rise of an illicit market, and a fall in excise tax revenues.

The government has justified the ban by arguing that scientific studies support the view that smoking produces more severe cases of Covid-19. Given that South Africa has around 11 million smokers, this would strain the country's health system.

In court papers filed this week, BATSA says it will be arguing in court that Regulation 45 of the lockdown regulations is unconstitutional, as it "violates the rights of every participant in the supply chain for tobacco and vaping products".

READ MORE | British American Tobacco SA says cigarette ban an 'exercise in smoke and mirrors' in court filing

The Western Cape needs different Covid-19 rules, to allow urgent economic activity and stop the "pandemic number two: unemployment, hunger and starvation".

This was argued by Premier Alan Winde on Wednesday at his weekly digicon - calling for an urgent meeting with the two lead national ministers dealing with Covid-19 - Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Health Minister Zweli Mhkhize.

Winde said the lockdown regulations had caused "pandemic number two" - the economic catastrophe it had induced. The Western Cape now urgently needed a "differentiated" approach to the national regulations - to unlock the opening up of economic sectors currently battling to survive.

These included the wine and tourism industries in particular.

READ MORE | Winde wants NDZ, Mkhize to consider 'differentiated approach' for Western Cape as deaths flatten

President Cyril Ramaphosa's spokesperson, Khusela Diko, and her husband, King Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko, have sought to give their side of the story in the saga over a R125 million personal protective equipment (PPE) tender awarded to the king by the Gauteng health department.

The PPE procurement was part of the government's efforts to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and are a much-needed resource by those on the frontlines.

The two, in a joint statement on Wednesday, addressed the tender awarded to the king's Royal Bacha projects, the public outrage over the claims, their relationships with Gauteng Health MEC Bandile Masuku and his wife, Loyiso, who is an MMC in the City of Johannesburg and his appointment to several boards.

After the tender scandal was made public, it emerged Diko was appointed to several boards of state entities, including the Johannesburg Market, Ingwe TVET college and the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority.

"I deeply regret that these efforts to earn an honest living and improve the well-being of my people are now mired in controversy," the king said in the statement.

READ MORE | The Dikos speak: 'PPE tender was an error of judgement'

The future of schools and what happens beyond the four-week break is still causing confusion, unions and school governing bodies say.

The Department of Basic Education is yet to gazette updated regulations and school calendar dates after schools had to close again due to concerns about rising Covid-19 infections.

Last Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Cabinet had decided public schools should stop on-site teaching from 27 July until 24 August.

The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) said it was still waiting for the department to issue new regulations before deciding on a plan of action to address its concerns.

Fedsas chief executive Paul Colditz told News24 on Wednesday that the department, both at national and provincial levels, was "slow" in its response to issues surrounding school closures.

READ MORE | School reopening: SGB body, unions call for new directions to be gazetted as confusion reigns

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 Wednesday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 16.84 million, while deaths were more than 662 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 4.39 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 150 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The US' coronavirus death toll surpassed 150 000 on Wednesday, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.

CNN reports that the university's stats shows there are at least 150 034 deaths and 4 396 030 cases so far. The death toll represents about a fifth of the total number of deaths worldwide, which is about 662 000.

Nationwide, the seven-day moving average of daily deaths rose above 1 000 on Tuesday - the first time since 2 June.

As the US hits the grim milestone, the Association of American Medical Colleges warned that "if the nation does not change its course - and soon - deaths in the United States could be well into the multiple hundreds of thousands.

READ MORE | US Covid-19 death toll surges past 150 000

LATEST RESEARCH

As Covid-19 is gaining a foothold all over the world, experts maintain that early and accurate detection is the best method to help slow down the spread, especially as some European countries are approaching the so-called “second wave”.

Currently, R- PCR tests are used, where a viral sample is isolated from material gathered from a nasal or throat swab. Even though this is the standard procedure, the procedure is often uncomfortable and requires staff clothed in PPE to perform these tests, increasing their risk of contracting Covid-19, especially where PPE is in short supply.

The accuracy of these tests has been questioned in previous research – a previous Health24 article mentions a study where the occurrence of false-negative results was one in five. These false-negative results could exacerbate the spread of Covid-19, as people who are under the false impression that they don’t carry the virus can potentially infect those at risk of severe Covid-19.

A new study, published in EBioMedicine, conducted a systematic review of more than 3 000 specimens to compare three testing approaches. They found that the virus was more likely to be detected in sputum tests than through nasal or oropharyngeal swabs.

Another thing that the researchers found, was that the earlier the samples were collected after the appearance of symptoms, the higher the detection rate.

READ MORE | Could sputum tests for Covid-19 provide better results than nasal swabs?

Face masks can help prevent the spread of Covid-19 among folks trapped in a room with an infected "super spreader", a new Swiss study claims.

Most infected people with a typical Covid viral load don't flood the air with coronavirus-infected respiratory droplets, and the risk of catching the virus from them tends to be low, estimates show.

But a severely infected person who's coughing frequently can fill a poorly ventilated room with as many as 7.4 million copies of the coronavirus for every cubic meter of air, according to researchers Michael Riediker and Dai-Hua Tsai, from the Swiss Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in Winterthur.

"The implications of these findings for everyday life and the workplace are that individuals may be at risk of infection if they spend more than a few minutes in a small room with a person who is infected with Covid-19 and has a high viral load," Riediker and Tsai concluded.

The study also "highlights the importance of wearing a mask," said Dr Aaron Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau. "Wearing a mask clearly helps, and it will diminish the capacity of these super spreaders to spread as much."

READ MORE | Covid-19 'super spreaders' quickly fill room with virus – but masks help

A lab-created virus that's similar to but not as dangerous as the new coronavirus could aid efforts to create Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, according to scientists who created it.

Airborne and potentially deadly, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 must be studied under strict safety conditions. Precautions include full-body biohazard suits with pressurised respirators, and labs with multiple containment levels and specialised ventilation systems.

But many scientists lack access to such safety measures, slowing efforts to find drugs and vaccines. So a team of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said they created a hybrid virus that doesn't require such extensive measures.

To create it, they replaced a gene in a mild virus with one from SARS-CoV-2. The hybrid virus infects cells and is recognised by antibodies just like SARS-CoV-2, but can be studied under ordinary laboratory safety protocols.

"I've never had this many requests for a scientific material in such a short period of time," said study co-author Sean Whelan, head of the university's Department of Molecular Microbiology.

READ MORE | Lab-created virus can help Covid-19 research, developers say

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