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Infectious Diseases

27 August 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Covid-19 tender contracts published, cigarette ban challenge withdrawn

Companies that received government contracts for Covid-19 tenders have been published online; and the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association has withdrawn legal action.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 615 701.

According to the latest update, 13 502 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 525 242 recoveries.

So far, more than 3.5 million tests have been conducted, with 20 137 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

All companies that received government contracts for Covid-19 tenders have now been published online, the Office of the Presidency has announced.

In a statement, acting Presidency spokesperson Tyrone Seale said the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer had published a full list of companies awarded contracts by the government for the supply of goods and services relating to the Covid-19 pandemic on the National Treasury website.

The move has been described by President Cyril Ramaphosa as historic.

The lists include Covid-19 procurement information from all provinces, national departments and more than 70 public entities.

The move is in line with a directive issued by Ramaphosa on 5 August for departments to submit full disclosure on Covid-19 tenders to the ministerial team convened by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

READ MORE | Covid-19 tender contracts published for all to see

The ban on the sale of tobacco may have been lifted earlier in the month, but that doesn't mean the clash between tobacco manufacturers and the state has ended, as both sides position themselves to fight a possible future prohibition.

While cigarettes could again be bought and sold from August 18, the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association did not immediately withdraw its legal action against the ban.

The tobacco group's initial challenge to have the cigarette ban overturned was dismissed with costs in June. It then applied for and was granted leave to appeal.

Now, after receiving assurances from the state attorney that Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, would allow for a public participation process if a new ban were considered, the association says it has, at last, stopped its legal action.

"FITA will withdraw its appeal and the parties will each pay their own costs in respect of the litigation in both the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal," it said in a statement.

A letter from the state attorney to FITA, on Tuesday, said the offer to embark on the public participation process, if a new ban were considered, was a "good faith attempt to resolve this matter". The state noted this did not, however, mean that the public participation process was required by law.

READ MORE | Tobacco group withdraws long-running legal challenge against cigarette ban

Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi has said the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) will soon resume its Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) payouts.

Nxesi was briefing Parliament's oversight committee on employment and labour on Wednesday morning.

This comes as it emerged that Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu had conducted a preliminary audit of the payments of TERS benefit funds to companies as a form of relief from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result of the probe, the Unemployment Insurance Fund had to halt payments to workers, as Business Insider reported.

Early in the meeting on Wednesday, Deputy Minister of Employment and Labour Boitumelo Moloi acknowledged that the system was dogged by challenges including overpayments, underpayments, fraudulent activities, and delays. Moloi said the problems were being addressed.

READ MORE | Govt vows UIF payments will resume 'soon' after halt for probe

The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation hopes to complete the 2020 academic year at the end of February 2021, Minister Blade Nzimande has announced.

Nzimande was briefing the nation in Pretoria on Wednesday, updating the department's plans during lockdown Level 2 and the measures in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The minister said the starting dates for the 2021 academic year will be between 15 March and 15 April.

He said all efforts would be made to ensure that institutions falling behind would get up to speed to meet the dates.

Nzimande said further details on the management of the processes surrounding the end and start of academic years would be communicated by the department once all consultations concluded.

The minister said institutions reported different responses towards concluding the 2020 academic year and their readiness for the next year.

READ MORE | Higher education academic year for 2021 set for March and April, says Nzimande

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 24 million, while deaths were more than 821 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 5.8 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 179 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

After scientists in Hong Kong reported the world's first confirmed coronavirus reinfection case on Monday in a 33-year-old man, a handful of similar data points began to trickle in, all pointing towards a trend: coronavirus infections don't provide everyone with perfect immunity against future illnesses.

In the Netherlands, Harald Wychgel, a spokesperson for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, told Insider that at least four cases of coronavirus reinfections have been confirmed with genetic sequencing in that country alone.

Another confirmed case was announced in Belgium, late Monday, shortly after the Hong Kong case was first made public.

Many of these reinfection cases share common traits: they have been mild, or even asymptomatic, suggesting that reinfections are unlikely to be severe, and that a person's initial illness, even if it doesn't protect them completely from a re-infection, can help shelter them from some of the virus's harshest effects, if they get sick a second time.

READ MORE | Four more coronavirus reinfection cases have been reported, this time in the Netherlands

LATEST RESEARCH

Immunity to Covid-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is complicated. While antibodies are key to the body’s response to a viral infection, scientists have been battling to understand exactly what role they play in protection against Covid-19, and how long survivors will be protected against reinfection.

However, new evidence of an outbreak of the virus on a fishing boat with 122 people in the Seattle area suggests that antibodies may play a significant role in protecting people against reinfection.

During the trip, almost all the crew members got infected, but the ones with antibodies didn't.

The study was posted online in pre-print database medRxiv, but has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Health24 previously explained that antibodies do their job by binding to specific parts of the virus, and neutralising the virus’s damaging effects.

READ MORE | Covid-19 and antibodies: What scientists found after studying an outbreak on a fishing boat

There's no doubt that these are frightening times. The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered high levels of anxiety and panic around the world, as people feel powerless while struggling with a variety of emotions. And if you turned to the internet for help with anxiety attacks during this time, you weren’t alone.

A new study has found that Google searches for anxiety soared to a record high at the beginning of the pandemic, and the researchers are advocating for the mental health repercussions during this time to be taken seriously by policy decision-makers.

The research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, analysed Google search queries from the US containing "panic attack" or "anxiety attack" between January 2004 through May 2020.

The findings indicate that the biggest increases in these searches – ranging from "Am I having a panic attack?", "signs of anxiety attack" and "anxiety attack symptoms" – took place between 16 March and 14 April 2020.

The study was led by researchers from the Center for Data-Driven Health at the Qualcomm Institute at the University of California San Diego, and was done in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, Barnard College, and the Institute for Disease Modeling.

READ MORE | Anxiety-related Google searches reached record high in US during early stages of pandemic

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