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Infectious Diseases

28 May 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Global demand for test kits, clarity on hotspots, and soldiers cleared

Your latest coronavirus news: Concern about the global shortage of test kits; the Ministry of Health has clarified that the entire country will move to a Level 3 lockdown on 1 June; and SANDF inquiry has found soldiers, who are accused of killing Alexandra resident Collins Khosa, cannot be held liable for this death.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 25 937.

According to the latest update, 552 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 13 451 recoveries

So far, just short of 635 000 tests have been conducted, with more than 29 000 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

South Africa is doing everything it can to keep up with the required level of testing for Covid-19, but there are "constraints beyond our control", Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.

Mkhize was answering questions in the first hybrid, virtual sitting of the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The day before, he briefed the National Council of Provinces, where he expressed his concern about the global shortage of test kits, which could create a backlog.

Mkhize also noted this in his daily Covid-19 press release on Tuesday: "As a country, we are now facing a challenge with the global shortage of testing reagents. We understand it's becoming a challenge to many other countries."

News24 reported on Wednesday that both public and private sectors were showing a sharp decline in the number of tests conducted.

Mkhize told the National Assembly on Wednesday that testing is a "major weapon in our arsenal".

READ MORE | Mkhize: Global demand for Covid-19 kits hampering testing in SA

The Ministry of Health has clarified that the entire country will move to a Level 3 lockdown on 1 June after a presentation Health Minister Zweli Mkhize made on Tuesday appeared to contradict President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement on Sunday evening.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the minister said there would be constant assessment of every area, as well as its rate of infection, and further containment measures and restrictions might be considered.

"If the spread of the infection is not contained despite interventions, government will make a determination on whether to return that specific area (i.e. metropolitan, district, sub district, ward) to Alert Level 4 or 5," Mkhize clarified in the statement.

The presentation the minister made to the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday included an old slide that stated that "hotspots would remain at Level 4".

READ MORE | Lockdown: Whole of SA moves to Level 3, hotspot areas to be constantly assessed, says Mkhize

A SA National Defence Force (SANDF) inquiry has found soldiers, who are accused of killing Alexandra resident Collins Khosa, cannot be held liable for this death as there is no link between the injuries he sustained due to their actions and him dying.

The findings of the inquiry are attached to an explanatory affidavit filed with the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria by the SANDF's legal adviser, Elvis Hobyana, on Tuesday.

The affidavit was filed to update the court on what steps had been taken to adhere to Judge Hans Fabricius' orders after he ruled in favour of the Khosa family earlier this month.

Khosa and Thabiso Muvhango, his brother-in-law, got into an altercation with SANDF and Johannesburg metro police officers at his Alexandra house on Good Friday.

READ MORE | SANDF probe clears soldiers of killing Collins Khosa, saying he was only 'pushed and clapped'

Hundreds of thousands of domestic workers who are not registered with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) can now claim special Covid-19 payouts.

As part of the Covid-19 Temporary Relief scheme (TERS), workers who are put on unpaid leave, have been laid off temporarily, or whose employers can’t afford to pay their full salaries are all entitled to the special payout from the UIF.

The minimum amount paid is R3 500 a month during the lockdown period.

Until now, only employees who were registered by their employers for UIF could receive these payments. The UIF has paid out TERS benefits to only 11 113 registered domestic workers since last month.

READ MORE | Domestic workers can now get coronavirus cash from the UIF – even if they're not registered

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 more than 5.65 million, while deaths were more than 353 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1.69 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 100 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Face masks are too dangerous for young children to wear, a Japanese medical group has warned, as governments around the world begin advising their citizens to wear facemasks to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The Japan Pediatric Association has warned that children under two years old shouldn't wear face coverings because they can make breathing difficult and increase the risk of choking, according to a report.

"Masks can make breathing difficult because infants have narrow air passages," the group said in a statement.

"Let's stop the use of masks for children under 2-years-old."

READ MORE | Japanese scientists warn toddlers should not wear face masks - they could choke, struggle to breathe

LATEST RESEARCH

In an effort to better understand the new coronavirus, ongoing research and clinical trials for Covid-19 treatments and vaccines are happening globally. Among them, a non-invasive, highly accurate, disposable breath test that could hit the market before the end of 2020.

The trial is a collaboration between US-based Canary Health Technologies and South Africa based Ezintsha research group at the University of Witwatersrand (WITS). The test, which involves a handheld device with disposable sensors, is set to deliver results on-site in under five minutes. The human trial is due to start in South Africa by the end of June, and trials in the UK and US are also planned.

Using exhaled Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) found in human breath, which are biomarkers of the virus, this newly-developed diagnostic test, named Covid-19 RT BAP, could potentially identify those who are infected with the disease.

More than this, the test will greatly assist in identifying those who have not yet developed clinical symptoms, or are asymptomatic (infected but displaying no symptoms). Asymptomatic cases have been reported as part of contact tracing efforts, reports the World Health Organization (WHO). The test could therefore quickly detect those at risk and help reduce transmission.

READ MORE | Trial for Covid-19 rapid breath test - that delivers results in under 5 minutes, to start in SA

Influenza, also known as the flu, is one of the most common viral diseases in the world. It, however, took a backseat when the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, rapidly took over earlier this year.

Now, new research, published in BMJ, shows that governments’ implementation of lockdowns and physical distancing measures, in an effort to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, have shortened the flu season – by up to six weeks, and that tracking infectious disease cases “could be a complementary approach to assessing the effectiveness of general infection control measures against Covid-19”.

Flu viruses circulate worldwide at different times of the year. Seasonal flu usually peaks in February and dies down by the end of May in the northern hemisphere, and runs from April to September in the southern hemisphere, often peaking during August.

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that the seasonal flu typically kills around 290 000 to 650 000 people annually and causes as many as five million cases of severe illness. According to Nature, the 2020 flu season was set to be the most severe in decades, until Covid-19 crossed borders and was declared a pandemic.

READ MORE | Some countries seeing fewer flu cases due to coronavirus lockdown measures, research shows

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