Infectious Diseases

26 June 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Date set for cigarette sales ban challenge to be heard in court

Your latest coronavirus news: British American Tobacco South Africa and Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are set to face off in court next week over the cigarette sales ban.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 118 375.

According to the latest update, 2 292 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 59 974 recoveries.

So far, 1.46 million tests have been conducted, with 43 118 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

British American Tobacco South Africa has presented hard-hitting arguments to court in a bid to prove government’s tobacco ban is irrational and based on faulty evidence.

This as news broke on Thursday night that the mega-court case will finally be heard next week.

BATSA's latest legal salvo is in response to Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who recently lodged her own reply to the initial application to have the ban overturned.

In her court papers, Dlamini-Zuma controversially argued that the economic damage from the cigarette ban was being partially mitigated by a flourishing illegal market - representing economic activity.

Now BATSA has hit back in papers lodged with the High Court on June 24.

READ MORE | BATSA, Dlamini-Zuma set to face off in court next week over cigarette ban

South Africa's biggest cigarette company, British American Tobacco, has started accepting "holding orders" from its customers, it confirmed this week.

It is not actually selling cigarettes, the company said, and it is not yet invoicing on the orders it takes.

"No deliveries will be made until the sale of tobacco products is allowed. The date for delivery will depend on when the ban is lifted," said British American Tobacco Southern Africa (Batsa) external affairs head Johnny Moloto in a statement to Business Insider South Africa.

But the company wants "to be in a position to better serve its customers and consumers once allowed".

READ MORE | SA’s biggest cigarette maker is now accepting orders – and some stores hope for 1 July delivery

Top scientist Professor Shabir Madhi says that, from a scientific perspective, there isn't much merit in preventing the sale of cigarettes but allowing people to buy alcohol.

Madhi, the professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the director of the Medical Research Council's respiratory and meningeal pathogens research unit, was responding to a question on the "cigarette debate" on a webinar on Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, there really isn't much merit from a scientific perspective in terms of banning smoking but allowing people to buy alcohol – in fact, what we are seeing right now is that the sale of alcohol is resulting in an increased pressure on our healthcare facilities," Madhi said in citing issues directly related to alcohol abuse.

When the country moved to Level 3 of the lockdown on 1 June, it allowed for the sale of alcohol during a specific period, while the sale of cigarettes remained prohibited.

READ MORE | 'There isn’t much merit from a scientific perspective in banning smoking' - top scientist

Many people are refusing to be quarantined and isolated in the Western Cape.

Among the concerns are not being able to drink, smoke or have sex. Others are worried about their homes and Covid-19 stigma if word gets out they have the virus.

This was announced by the Western Cape government on Thursday.

"The Western Cape is experiencing very high rejection rates to be admitted to Q&I facilities," the province reported.

READ MORE | Can we drink, smoke or have sex in quarantine? - Capetonians ask govt


Cases update:

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

Early on Friday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 9.52 million, while deaths were close to 485 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - 2.41 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 122 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The number of new Covid-19 cases in the United States is hitting levels not seen since the early part of the pandemic in April.

A patchwork of responses at the official level, the politicisation of masks and physical distancing, and the widespread onset of complacency are to blame.

Unlike Europe and parts of East Asia, the United States never climbed down from its peak.

Where other countries can talk about planning for second waves, the hardest-hit country in the world is still experiencing its first.

READ MORE | Why is the US experiencing a coronavirus resurgence?

The South Korean city of Daegu is suing a doomsday church for 100 billion won (R1.4 billion) in damages. At present, over 5 000 of South Korea's recorded coronavirus cases have been linked to the religious group.

According to the Korea Herald, the city filed the civil suit with the Daegu District Court last week against the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and its controversial founder Lee Man-hee.

The city accused the fringe religious group of hindering its lockdown efforts and leading to thousands of infections spread by churchgoers, according to the Herald. It is seeking financial compensation equal to about two-thirds of the city's coronavirus-related spending.

The church was set up by Lee in 1984 and has grown to nearly 250 000 members, mostly in South Korea. A member of the group's Daegu congregation was confirmed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus on February 18, though at the time, the church continued to hold large gatherings despite guidelines in place. Within two weeks, over 2 000 cases of the virus were linked to the church.

READ MORE | South Korean church linked to many Covid-19 cases is being sued for R1 billion in damages


The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial is the first clinical trial in Africa for a Covid-19 vaccine and is currently underway. Although more than 100 vaccines are in development, this one, named ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is one of only six studies involving humans, said Professor Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, during a virtual press conference hosted by Wits, Health24 reported. Madhi is also leading the SA study.

On the topic of whether it's ethical to experiment on humans for a disease that remains poorly understood, Madhi explained the following at a webinar on Wednesday.

Vaccine development generally takes a number of years before a vaccine is made available to the public. How, then, can this trial expect results in one to two years?

Madhi explained that although it takes, on average, between five and 10 years to develop a vaccine, in this instance scientists are trying to condense this into a one to two year period. Madhi does not ignore the risks associated with this, but clarifies:

READ MORE | SA's vaccine trial: Covid-19 science is moving fast, what about safety?

National immunisation rates for children under five years have dropped dramatically over the period of South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown, sparking fears of an outbreak of deadly childhood infectious diseases including measles.

The most recent Department of Health figures, released to Spotlight, show that national immunisation coverage in April during level five of the lockdown dropped from 82% in April last year to 61% for April this year. Most concerning is the sharp decrease in the coverage rate of the second dose of measles vaccine from 77% in April last year to 55% in April this year.

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended immunisation coverage rate for countries worldwide is 95%. The larger the percentage of people immunised, the more the population will be protected from deadly outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Measles, a highly contagious disease, remains a serious global threat although a safe and effective vaccine has been available since 1963. The measles virus usually results in a high fever and rash, and can lead to blindness, encephalitis or death.

READ MORE | Dramatic drop in SA’s immunisation rates

In South Africa’s private healthcare sector, Covid-19 tests are typically processed within a day or two. Tests are also relatively easy to get, provided you or your medical scheme are willing to pay the R900 plus that it costs. Even if you don’t want a Covid-19 test, many private hospitals require you to have one should you plan to be admitted for even a relatively minor elective procedure unrelated to Covid-19.

In stark contrast, healthcare workers and patients in the public sector often have to wait a week, or even weeks, for test results. This has serious implications – including samples being in the queue for so long that they become unusable before they are tested.

“About a month and a half ago is really when we started to experience a crisis,” says a medical doctor, emergency medicine specialist and manager at a public sector hospital in Gauteng. The doctor asked not to be named for fear of potential consequences for her job.

The “crisis” started soon after the testing eligibility criteria were expanded on the recommendation of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and tests started being referred through government’s ambitious testing and screening campaign.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Stark differences between public and private sector testing

While scientists have confirmed that a loss of taste and smell is one of the major symptoms of Covid-19, a new study looked at how frequent this symptom presented in positive cases.

Published in JAMA Network, researchers from the Humanitas Clinical and Research Centre in Milan, Italy, analysed the feedback from 204 patients diagnosed with the coronavirus and who were able to respond to a questionnaire.

About 55.4% reported a reduced sense of taste, while 41.7% had a reduced sense of smell.

In total, 40.2% reported a reduction of both senses. However, only 7.8% of the cases reported a stuffy or runny nose – an uncommon symptom of Covid-19.

These symptoms were, therefore, more frequent than all the other major symptoms, except for coughing.

READ MORE | How common is losing taste and smell among Covid-19 patients? Scientists took a closer look

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