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Infectious Diseases

28 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Gauteng PPE corruption claims, and schools latest

Your latest coronavirus news: President's spokesperson Khusela Diko takes leave of absence in face of PPE procurement scandal, and the latest on schools.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 452 529.

According to the latest update, 7 067 of deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 274 925 recoveries.

So far, more than 2.8 million tests have been conducted, with 28 433 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

President Cyril Ramaphosa's spokesperson Khusela Diko has taken a leave of absence from all her roles in government, pending investigations into allegations involving her and her husband and tender regulations in the Gauteng Department of Health.

In a statement issued on Monday evening, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said Diko had requested the Presidency to allow her to take leave of absence.

"The Minister in the Presidency, who is her immediate supervisor, as well as the President of the Republic, [has] accepted her request for leave of absence whilst the allegations are being investigated. The Presidency has appointed Mr Tyrone Seale to act in the position of spokesperson to the president whilst Ms Diko is on leave."

Sunday Independent reported that a R125-million personal protective equipment (PPE) contract was allegedly awarded to disputed AmaBhaca king, Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko, who is her husband.

Diko and her husband maintain the money was never paid to his company and the contract was never finalised, Sunday Times also previously reported.

READ MORE | President's spokesperson Khusela Diko takes leave of absence in face of PPE procurement scandal

Gauteng ANC secretary Jacob Khawe will on Monday meet with the province's Premier David Makhura and Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku following allegations of widespread corruption at the health department.

Makhura is also the provincial chairperson of the party.

Its spokesperson Bones Modise told News24 the ANC wanted to find out from its own deployees what really happened.

Over the past two weekends the Sunday Independent reported on the awarding of a personal protective equipment contract of R125 million to Amabhaca King, Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko, who is the spouse of the president's spokesperson Khusela Diko, who also sits on the ANC's provincial executive committee.

The newspaper also makes a link between the Diko family and Masuku, through his wife Loyiso, who serves as member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for group corporate and shared services at the City of Johannesburg.

READ MORE | ANC Gauteng to meet with Makhura, Masuku over Covid-19 corruption claims

Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku denied claims in reports on Sunday that he was involved in influencing irregular Covid-19-related procurement processes.

Sunday Independent reported that Masuku and his wife, Loyiso Lugayeni-Masuku, were linked to a R125 million personal protective equipment (PPE) contract that was allegedly awarded to disputed AmaBhaca king, Madzikane II Thandisizwe Diko.

This was one of the transactions reportedly flagged in an audit conducted by the provincial treasury into the spending of R2 billion on PPE by the Gauteng health department.

The publication did not name any official source confirming the allegation and did not elicit a response from Masuku, who reportedly referred all enquiries to departmental spokesperson Kwara Kekana.

READ MORE | Gauteng Health MEC denies involvement in PPE procurement corruption

Independent schools never completely closed but worked online when the national lockdown, aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, started in March, the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa) said on Monday.

Isasa executive director Lebogang Montjane said therefore threats by the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) to shut down the institutions were "regrettable".

Cosas threatened to shut down all private schools from Monday, after they were allowed to remain open when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last week that public schools would close for four weeks.

While most grades are set to return to classrooms on 24 August, Grade 12 pupils were expected to resume learning at schools next Monday. Grade 7 pupils would return on 10 August.

Cosas had already forcibly shut down a number of public schools in Gauteng and Limpopo before Ramaphosa's announcement, which cited safety and health concerns.

READ MORE | Shutting down private schools won't stop teaching - Isasa responds to Cosas' 'regrettable' threats

The Department of Basic Education says children benefitting from the school nutrition programme can collect their meals from their nearest school, while schools are closed for four weeks.

Public schools have once again had their doors shut from 27 July until 24 August as Covid-19 infections increase.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the recess last Thursday following a decision by Cabinet.

Grade 12 pupils were set to remain at home for one week and return on 3 August, while those in Grade 7 would return on 10 August.

Basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said: "Schools will remain open to ensure that beneficiaries access their meals at school. They can even go to the nearest school to collect."

READ MORE | Children can collect daily meals from nearest school, says education department

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 DAY night, positive cases worldwide were more than 16.35 million, while deaths were more than 650 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 4.27 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 147 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The United States has doubled its investment - to nearly $1 billion - to expedite development of a potential Covid-19 vaccine by American firm Moderna, which on Monday begins the decisive final phase of clinical trials.

The government now plans to spend up to $472 million on top of the previously announced $483 million, the Moderna biotechnology company announced on Sunday.

Moderna said the added investment was justified by its decision, in conjunction with the government, to "significantly" expand a Phase Three clinical trial of a candidate vaccine to include 30 000 participants.

In a small, initial trial, Moderna's experimental vaccine produced coronavirus antibodies - which should help fend off the disease - in the bodies of all 45 participants.

In the expanded trial starting Monday, half the 30 000 participants will receive a 100-microgram dose of the vaccine, while the rest will be given a placebo.

READ MORE | US doubles spending on potential virus vaccine to nearly $1 billion

China recorded 61 new coronavirus cases on Monday - the highest daily figure since April - propelled by clusters in three separate regions that have sparked fears of a fresh wave.

The bulk of 57 new domestic cases were found in the far north-western Xinjiang region, according to the National Health Commission, where a sudden outbreak in the regional capital of Urumqi occurred in mid-July.

Fourteen domestic cases were also recorded in the north-eastern province of Liaoning where a fresh cluster broke out in the city of Dalian last week.

Two more local cases were found in the neighbouring province of Jilin near the North Korean border - the first since late May.

The last four infections confirmed on Monday were imported from overseas.

READ MORE | China records highest surge in virus cases since April

LATEST RESEARCH

Our Fitbits, Garmin and Apple watches can track almost anything regarding our health (although there's been some debate over how accurate they are), but could they potentially track the coronavirus that's causing havoc all over the world?

Researchers at Stanford Medicine's Healthcare Innovation Lab want to find out, and are looking for tech users to participate in a global study.

"With limited test kits and slow results turnaround, we are trying to find out if information from wearable devices can help detect Covid-19 before symptoms emerge," it says on their study website.

If they are able to set up a baseline of biodata for what the onset of Covid-19 looks like, it could help people quarantine faster and curb the spread of infection, especially when it comes to asymptomatic patients.

READ MORE | Smartwatch users can help study figure out if tech can predict Covid-19

Even mild obesity significantly drives up the risk for serious illness or death among Covid-19 patients, researchers from Italy report.

"Healthcare practitioners should be aware that people with any grade of obesity, not just the severely obese, are a population at risk," said study lead author Dr Matteo Rottoli.

"Extra caution should be used for hospitalised Covid-19 patients with obesity, as they are likely to experience a quick deterioration towards respiratory failure, and to require intensive care admission," added Rottoli, a senior assistant professor of surgery at the Alma Mater Studiorum University of Bologna.

The finding is not the first to link obesity to worse Covid outcomes. However, most studies have focused on patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more, the threshold for "extreme obesity". And that's also the cutoff used for US and UK guidelines identifying people at greater risk.

READ MORE | Even mild obesity raises odds for severe Covid-19

Mothers are unlikely to pass Covid-19 to their newborns if they follow recommended precautions, a small study suggests.

"We hope our study will provide some reassurance to new mothers that the risk of them passing Covid-19 to their babies is very low. However, larger studies are needed to better understand the risks of transmission from mother to child," said co-leader Dr Christine Salvatore, a paediatric infectious disease specialist from Weill Cornell Medicine-New York Presbyterian Komansky Children's Hospital in New York City.

The research included 120 babies born to 116 mothers with Covid-19 infection. The infants, born at three New York hospitals between 22 March and 17 May, were allowed to room with their mothers and breastfeed, if moms were well enough.

The babies were in enclosed cribs, six feet from their mothers, except during feeding. Moms were required to wear masks while handling their babies and to follow frequent hand- and breast-washing guidelines.

READ MORE | With safety steps, moms unlikely to pass Covid-19 to newborns

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