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Infectious Diseases

05 May 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Cigarette sale ban goes to court, and BCG trial starts in SA

Your latest coronavirus news: The Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association has served government with court papers, to challenge a decision to retain the ban on the sale of cigarettes; and a BCG trial has begun in SA, as hundreds of health workers were given the tuberculosis treatment to see if it can protect against the Covid-19 virus.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 7 220.

According to the latest update, 138 deaths have been recorded in the country.

So far, 257 541 tests have been conducted.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Government has not shown how the banning of the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products would be instrumental in reducing the spread of Covid-19, the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association has argued in court papers filed on Monday.

The Association served government with court papers, filed at the Pretoria High Court, to challenge a decision to retain the ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco product sales during Level 4 of the lockdown. FITA is also seeking the courts to have cigarettes and tobacco declared as essential goods.

FITA is a non-profit company formed by Southern African-based cigarette manufacturers with the aim of promoting a fair trading environment. According to its website it has seven members, including cigarette makers Carnilinx and Gold Leaf Tobacco.

The urgent application was filed against President Cyril Ramaphosa and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The Presidency has not yet indicated if the application will be opposed.

"There is in fact no basis to contend the prohibition of cigarette and tobacco products is related to combating the Covid-19 virus," FITA chairperson Sinenhlanhla Mnguni said in the court papers. He further slammed government's ban as being "irrational".

READ MORE | If cigarette sales spread coronavirus, prove it – tobacco association

MPs are concerned about the high costs hotels are charging for being quarantine sites – more than R28 million so far.

The Portfolio Committee on Public Works and Infrastructure and the Select Committee on Transport, Public Service and Administration, and Public Works and Infrastructure, met with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure on Monday.

So far, 2 125 people have been quarantined for 14 days at 14 different hotels. The rates vary from R950 to R1 200 per day, depending on the hotel. The total cost is R 28 677 600.

Seven of the hotels are in Johannesburg, three in Cape Town, two in Tshwane and one each in eThekweni and Ekurhuleni.

READ MORE | MPs concerned about cost of quarantine hotels, currently the bill is over R28m

Cigarette trader Adriano Mazzotti says his involvement in an urgent court challenge to the government's cigarette ban makes it "obvious" that claims he is involved in the illicit trade of tobacco are "blatantly untrue".

"The allegation that I have some connection with Minister [Nkosazana] Dlamini-Zuma and may have had an influence on the decision made by government in relation to the ban of tobacco products during the lockdown for self-gain, is outrageous," Mazzotti said in a statement released on Monday night.

"I have stated on record on numerous occasions that there is no relationship between myself and Minister Dlamini-Zuma and I did not fund her presidential campaign as has been maliciously alleged."

According to author Jacques Pauw, Mazzotti admitted in a signed May 2014 affidavit that he and his company, Carnilinx, were complicit in fraud, money laundering, corruption, tax evasion and bribery.

Pauw also claimed Mazzotti had given Dlamini-Zuma a variety of electioneering paraphernalia.

But, in his statement, Mazzotti – a self-admitted benefactor of both the EFF and the ANC – says he has suffered ongoing "politically motivated" harassment as "I continue to be untruthfully linked to Minister Dlamini-Zuma".

READ MORE | Adriano Mazzotti denies 'outrageous' claims he influenced NDZ, govt to ban tobacco sales

The SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) has blamed Monday's glitches with regard to grant payments to the elderly and the disabled on being short-staffed during the processing stages. 

The agency made accidental double payments in some areas and no payments in others, apparently due to glitches in its system as it tried to process payments earlier to avoid overcrowding, News24 reported.

Sassa spokesperson Kgomoco Diseko told News24 that the grant payment cycle was being processed at the same time as the Covid-19 relief grant top-up payment, which was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

As a result, staff members were under pressure to split payment files and to ensure the payments were ready in time. 

Diseko said because preparations were under way during the lockdown period, a number of employees were not working and most offices not operating.  

READ MORE | Social grants blunder: Technical glitch, under-pressure staff to blame for double paying some beneficiaries and non-payment of 450 000 pensioners

With some 1.5 million South Africans returning to work this week, businesses are required to comply with strict new health and safety regulations to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Businesses re-opening must put these measures in place before restarting work, minister of labour Thulas Nxesi said during a briefing at the weekend. Failure to do so could result in criminal prosecution.

He admitted, however, that while government is recruiting, there are currently only 170 inspectors in the field.

“It would be impossible to inspect every one of the 1.8 million businesses,” Nxesi admitted. “Therefore, inspectors rely upon the support of individual workers, unions and socially responsible employers in providing vital information – which in turn allows the inspectors to focus on hotspots and to make an example of particular offenders.”

During the first phase of lockdown, inspectors shut down (or partially closed) nine businesses a day for violations.

The new regulations demand that companies must ensure that employees who can work from home, stay at home. For those who have to be on the premises, contact between them and the public must be minimised.

Businesses must minimise the number of workers at the workplace at any given time through rotation, staggered working hours and shifts. Face-to-face meetings must also be restricted.

READ MORE | New Covid-19 rules: What your workplace needs to look like

Peri-peri chicken restaurant Nando’s will open certain branches for delivery from 4 May after all.

Fast food deliveries are permitted in South Africa under Alert Level 4. Consumers will, however, not be allowed to visit the fast-food outlets to collect their own takeaways, and food deliveries will only be permitted between 09:00 and 19:00 daily. 

Nando’s initially said on Friday that it would not be opening, as it did not make commercial sense to reopen for deliveries only. It was the last of the major chains that had no plans to offer delivery.

The chain, however, seems to have had a change of heart since, and on Monday released a list of Nando's that would be open after all.

READ MORE | These Nando's outlets will now be open for delivery

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 Tuesday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 3.57 million, while deaths were now more than 250 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1.17 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 68 500.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

World leaders on called Monday for cooperation in the quest for a coronavirus vaccine, as they pledged $8.1 billion at a fundraising telethon.

Covid-19 has killed nearly a quarter of a million people around the world - 140 000 of them in Europe - and Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission and the host of the videoconference, said a vaccine is the best chance of beating the disease.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the fundraising as a powerful show of "global solidarity".

Major European powers, along with Japan and Canada, made the biggest pledges from around 40 countries, but there was no official US representation, weakening the event and raising the prospect of an uncoordinated competition to develop and produce a vaccine.

READ  MORE | WHO hails 'global solidarity' as world leaders raise $8bn for Covid-19 vaccine

Apple and Google said their upcoming contact-tracing tool will be restricted to one public health app per country to get as many people in each nation using the software as possible.

The companies also released app concepts and sample code to help app developers build programs using the iOS and Android contact-tracing tool. In a statement on Monday, the companies said they would still support countries that have “opted for a regional or state approach.”

The system, unveiled in April, adds technology to the iOS and Android smartphone operating systems that alerts users anonymously if they have come into contact with a person with Covid-19. The first phase will launch publicly in mid-May. 

It requires public health apps to integrate with the system. In the future, the technology will be embedded more deeply into the Apple and Google operating systems to be less reliant on apps.

READ MORE | Apple, Google coronavirus tracing tool to be limited: one app per country

LATEST RESEARCH

Hundreds of South African health workers were given a century-old tuberculosis vaccine on Monday in a trial to see whether the venerable formula can protect against coronavirus.

Devised at France's legendary Pasteur Institute 100 years ago, the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine is one of the world's oldest and most trusted immunisations.

"We vaccinated the first participant this morning," Duncan McDonald, head of business development and marketing at a clinical research organisation called TASK, told AFP.

Trials started at Tygerberg hospital in Cape Town, where BCG booster shots were administered to 250 health care workers, while another 250 received a dummy formula, or placebo.

READ MORE | South Africa starts coronavirus trial of TB vaccine

The main modes of transmission of the new coronavirus are well known: via human respiratory droplets (when symptomatic people cough or sneeze) and direct contact. However, there is still uncertainty about its potential of spreading via aerosol transmission.

To investigate the aerodynamic nature of the new coronavirus, a team of researchers at Wuhan University set up aerosol traps in and around two government-designated Covid-19 hospitals in February and March this year. 

They found that while the virus’s RNA in aerosols had low detection levels in the hospitals’ isolation wards and ventilated patient rooms, there was a higher level in the patients’ toilet areas. 

The results were published in the journal Nature.  

READ MORE | Hospital toilets can be a hotspot for airborne coronavirus RNA, new study finds

Covid-19 might raise stroke risk in young and middle-aged adults, with virus-linked blood clots causing severe damage to their brains, doctors warn.

Word has already spread that the new coronavirus appears to increase clotting in some patients, experts say.

Now, a series of five cases at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City indicate that those clots might cause strokes in young patients, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The cases came during a two-week period from 23 March to 7 April. The patients ranged in age from 33 to 49, and all were Covid-19 positive when they came to the hospital for care, Mount Sinai researchers said.

READ MORE | Is Covid-19 now linked with strokes in young patients?

Supplies of personal protective equipment remain scarce across the United States, especially the N95 respirator masks that healthcare workers use to protect themselves from the new coronavirus.

To help extend the useful life of available equipment, researchers and hospitals are turning to a long-known, if little-used, means of disinfection – ultraviolet radiation.

"It's generally well known that UV-C radiation kills microbes," said Bob Karlicek Jr, director of the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems and Applications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. "What's not known is the specific quantities of UV-C radiation that is required to fully disinfect complex equipment like N95 masks, because you have to get the light to the inside of the mask."

Karlicek led a team that created a UV-C system designed to disinfect N95 masks. It's being tested at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

READ MORE | UV light won't treat Covid-19 – but it might disinfect medical gear

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