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Infectious Diseases

25 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Disappointment over schools move, and latest on cigarettes court bid

Government is listening to unions over scientists - experts say school closures against evidence; and a bid to appeal cigarette ban rejected, but FITA says it's not giving up.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 421 996.

According to the latest update, 6 343 of deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 245 343 recoveries.

So far, just over 2.6 million tests have been conducted, with 52 382 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The High Court in Pretoria has rejected an application by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association for leave to appeal a ruling than upheld a ban on the sale of cigarettes during the current Covid-19 lockdown

A full bench of the court dismissed the application with costs, stating that the organisation "failed to show that the appeal bears reasonable prospects of success"

The sale of cigarettes has been banned since the start of the lockdown in late March, with the government justifying the ban as necessary for health reasons amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has already killed some 6 000 people. FITA will now approach the Supreme Court of Appeal to consider the application.

Spokesperson for FITA, Sinenhlanhla Mnguni, said the organisation, which primarily represents local manufacturers, were prepared for this outcome and would escalate the matter

"We have always had it in mind that this may be an eventuality... so we were prepared to take the next step, which is what we are going to do now, [namely] petitioning the Supreme Court of Appeal for the same relief," Mnguni said. 

READ MORE | High Court rejects bid to appeal cigarette ban, but FITA says it's not giving up

Demand for the leaves of Artemisia afra – also known as lengana, uMhlonyane, African wormwood, and Wilde Als in South Africa – has soared as South Africans seek it to treat Covid-19-like symptoms. 

Artemisia has been used for generations as a traditional cure for flu-related illnesses such as colds, fever, coughs and headaches, including by various South African communities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also recommended its use in treating "uncomplicated" malaria cases.

As the coronavirus pandemic started to grip Africa, many have turned to the plant to treat their symptoms, and the government of Madagascar has punted a remedy for Covid-19 based on it.

Artemisia can be found in the wild throughout much of South Africa.

Earlier this month, South Africa's department of higher education, science and innovation allocated R15 million to research the use of artemisia – among other African plants – in treating Covid-19 symptoms. However, the WHO warned that there are no published scientific studies on the plant’s efficacy in treating Covid-19, and that it should still be tested for adverse side effects.

Professor Wolfgang Preiser, who heads the medical virology unit at the University of Stellenbosch's medical school, says the plant offers no magic cure for Covid-19, but could provide some relief of symptoms. 

READ MORE | A 'medical plant' is in hot demand as South Africans seek relief for Covid symptoms

The Eastern Cape government's plan to use some of the Buffalo City metro's R340 million housing budget to build a 1 000-bed field hospital in East London has been shot down by National Treasury.

On Friday, Treasury and the national Department of Human Settlements - the administrators of the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) - confirmed the request from the city was declined.

The provincial government said it was now looking elsewhere to get the funds to build the hospital.

Premier Oscar Mabuyane's spokesperson, Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, said: "Government is working with its social partners to resource the fight against the virus. We are focusing on identifying property for the field hospitals and together with our social partners we will join hands to establish resources we require to save the lives of our people."

Treasury said it had received a request from Buffalo City to have it USDG amount of R340 million reprioritised during the 2019/20 financial year for Covid-19-related expenditure.

This follows Ramaphosa's address to the nation on Thursday night in which he announced public schools would shut down for four weeks, while Grade 12 pupils would take a one-week break.

Professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Shabir Madhi, told News24 that the government had not taken the advice of scientists who, he said, agreed that schools should not be closed.

"I think it's a case of government deciding to take advice from the unions, rather than from the scientists, because the scientific community has been pretty uniform that there is very little reason to close the schools.

"The opening of the schools has got very little to do with the transmission of the virus and if anything, the closure of the schools is going to do more harm than good," Madhi said.

READ MORE | Government is listening to unions over scientists - experts say school closures against evidence

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 Friday night, positive cases worldwide were over 15.6 million, while deaths were more than 630 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - just over 4 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 144 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

From France to the United Kingdom to Chile, police and cognitive-behavioural researchers are racing to see if dogs can smell people infected with the coronavirus in crowded public spaces.

"It seems that the same sort of process that occurs in cancer detection dogs, or bomb detection dogs, or any other type of detecting dog may apply here too," Dr. Brian Hare, author of "Survival of the Friendliest" and professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, and Psychology, and Neuroscience at Duke University, told Insider.

Here's the science behind how bio-detector dogs sniff out diseases and get trained to keep us safe.

While there is no evidence that conclusively proves sniffer dogs can detect the coronavirus, dogs have long been used to sniff out bombs, cancer, and even malaria.

READ MORE | Dogs are being trained to find the coronavirus by smelling people in public spaces

The UN's high commissioner for human rights on Friday warned Zimbabwe against using the coronavirus pandemic as a pretext for restricting freedoms, after an investigative journalist and an opposition leader were arrested this week.

Award-winning journalist and government critic Hopewell Chin'ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, head of a small opposition party, were arrested on Monday ahead of anti-government and anti-graft demonstrations planned for 31 July.

State prosecutors accuse the pair of recklessness for organising a protest in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak.

They were charged with inciting public violence.

"We are concerned at allegations in Zimbabwe which suggest that the authorities may be using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to clamp down on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association," said the commissioner's spokesperson, Liz Throssell.

The planned demonstration against corruption and the deteriorating economy marks the second anniversary of a general election won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa amid accusations of fraud.

READ MORE | UN warns Zimbabwe against using pandemic for clampdown

LATEST RESEARCH

It was in late March when Julia Henry first felt the body aches and dry cough that signaled the start of her bout with Covid-19. By that weekend, her husband and three children also were sick. But the kids were fine less than a week later, her husband within two weeks.

"My husband just woke up one day starting to feel back to normal, and I kept waiting for that day when I would have that feeling. But I never did. I never did," said Henry, a 40-year-old physical therapist from New Hampshire.

"For more than two months, I couldn't do much of anything," she said. "Now after three months, I'm finally starting to be able to do some normal, everyday things, like play with my kids or cook dinner for my family."

Recovery isn't the same for everyone. The World Health Organization reports the median time for recovery is up to two weeks for those with mild cases, while in those with more severe cases it can take up to six weeks for symptoms to resolve.

READ MORE | Months after infection, many Covid-19 patients can't shake illness

The number of Covid-19 cases continues to grow worldwide. As of 20 July, we surpassed 14.5 million cases worldwide. Although everyone is at risk for getting Covid-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus) when exposed to the virus, some people have a higher risk than others of becoming severely ill.

On 14 July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated and expanded its list of underlying conditions that may cause more severe outcomes if infected with Covid-19, with the newest additions being the following: type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), whole organ transplants, obesity, sickle cell disease, and pregnant women. 

According to the agency, the list was updated after CDC experts reviewed published reports, pre-print studies and several other data sources. They then determined whether there was clear, mixed or limited evidence that the underlying medical condition increased a person’s risk for severe illness, irrespective of age.

READ MORE | The US has expanded the list of people most at risk of severe Covid-19

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