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Infectious Diseases

13 August 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Latest on cigarette, alcohol bans and concern over schools

The president has been told to lift the cigarette, alcohol bans, and move to Level 2 lockdown, sources say; and unions and SGBs are concerned about matric, Grade 7 attendance.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 568 919.

According to the latest update, 11 010 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 432 029 recoveries.

So far, a total of more than 3.29 million tests have been conducted, with 16 457 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) and Cabinet have been advised to lift the ban on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol and move the country to Alert Level Two of the nationwide lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to announce his decision this week.

News24 has confirmed that Ramaphosa chaired meetings of the NCCC and Cabinet on Tuesday where the overwhelming argument was in favour of fully reopening the economy.

This is in light of the fact that fewer confirmed Covid-19 cases have been reported daily.

Four sources who have knowledge of the discussions told News24 that the economic devastation of the cigarette sales ban could no longer be justified. The country has lost billions of rand in tax revenue as a result of the ban and the illegal selling of cigarettes has flourished.

The same argument was made for the reinstated alcohol ban that has been in place for the last month.

Officials said they were told that hospitals were not overwhelmed as expected, and that South Africa's recovery rate showed a positive trajectory.

READ MORE | Ramaphosa told to lift cigarette, alcohol ban and move to Level 2 lockdown - sources

Five months into the Covid-19 lockdown, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola says over 10 000 first appearance lockdown cases are still open and "postponed for a future date".

At the same time, Lamola revealed that a total of 776 of the first appearance cases were withdrawn.

He was responding to a written parliamentary question from DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach, who wanted details on the latest Covid-19 contraventions and cases.

"The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), in line with the modernisation approach, monitored the enrolment of all Covid-19 cases from the integrated electronic case management dataset.

"During the lockdown period up to 9 June 2020, the courts dealt with 18 355 first appearance cases related to Covid-19 contraventions, with 39 089 accused," Lamola's reply read.

A total of 12 354 cases are still open and postponed for a future date, Lamola said.

READ MORE | Covid-19: More than 10 000 lockdown contravention cases still open

Grade 7 pupils returned to school on Tuesday after having been away for two weeks following the announcement of a four-week long break by President Cyril Ramaphosa in July.

Schools were closed from 27 July until 24 August, but Grade 12 pupils were given a week's break and Grade 7 had two weeks.

Grade 12s returned last week.

According to the Mpumalanga education department, 86 000 pupils in Grade 7 showed up at school on Tuesday.

Mpumalanga Education MEC Bonakele Majuba visited Tsandzanani Primary School in Nkululeko Circuit to monitor compliance of Covid-19 protocols.

READ MORE | No disruptions as Grade 7s return to school, say provincial education departments

While teachers' unions are comfortable with the return of pupils in Grades 7 and 12, some are concerned about schools' readiness to welcome other grades from 24 August.

The unions are also concerned about the attendance of those in Grades 7 and 12.

According to National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa executive director, Basil Manuel, schools were not only closed for a few weeks to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections, but to allow the education department to strengthen its safety measures and to make sure schools are compliant.

"Now, the question is - has the [department] managed to [ensure schools are safe]? We have done a survey, and we will have results by tomorrow," Manuel said.

The survey was jointly conducted by the country's five teacher unions, including the biggest, the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu).

Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the poll results would give insight into their concerns, such as the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the provision of water and sanitation.

READ MORE | Unions, SGBs concerned about matric, Grade 7 attendance and space for more grades

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 20.44 million, while deaths were more than 745 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 5.18 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 165 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Germany's health minister has warned that Russia's controversial new coronavirus vaccine hasn't been properly tested and could kill the acceptance of vaccinations if it turns out to be unsafe or ineffective.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said his government had given regulatory approval the world's first coronavirus vaccine and hoped to begin mass production soon.

This is despite the fact it had not yet completed its Stage Three trials, which are considered key in demonstrating the safety and efficacy of a vaccine, and which are usually completed before regulatory approval is given to a treatment.

"It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions, if not billions, of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong, so I'm very sceptical about what's going on in Russia," German health minister Jens Spahn told German radio station Deutschlandfunk on Wednesday, in comments reported by Reuters.

"I would be pleased if we had an initial, good vaccine but based on everything we know - and that's the fundamental problem, namely that the Russians aren't telling us much - this has not been sufficiently tested," he said.

READ MORE | Germany warns Russia's coronavirus vaccine may 'kill' acceptance of others if it goes wrong

The US government has agreed to pay up to $1.5 billion (more than R26 billion) to obtain 100 million doses of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine, its Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.

Under the deal, pharmaceutical company Moderna will manufacture the doses as it conducts clinical trials, which are expected to produce results as early as October.

"Manufacturing in parallel with clinical trials expedites the traditional vaccine development timeline," the HHS said in a press release.

The vaccine has been co-developed by Moderna and the US government's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"We appreciate the confidence of the US government in our mRNA vaccine platform and the continued support," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a press release.

READ MORE | The US govt has agreed to buy 100 million doses of a trial vaccine for up to R26 billion

LATEST RESEARCH

South Africa is consolidating its place in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine with its participation in two new international trials of vaccine candidates.

Dr Glenda Gray, President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council, has confirmed to Spotlight that a Johnson & Johnson product called Ad26.COV2-S and a Novavax product called NVX-CoV2373 will be trialed in the country starting from next month.

This development follows the June launch in South Africa of the first Covid-19 vaccine candidate to be tested in Africa. Led by Professor in Vaccinology at Wits University, Shabir Madhi, the Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA trial is a collaboration with Oxford University.

A total of 2 000 volunteers in South Africa are currently being screened and given the vaccine or a placebo in this trial. Among them is Gray, who was injected with either a placebo or the potential vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus at a trial site at the Cape Town Lung Institute.

She saw many people from all walks of life signing up when she was screened on Friday.

“We are all citizens of this country and we are all affected by Covid-19. Scientists need to roll up their sleeves in more ways than one. We are usually at one end of the needle and we are never at the shooting (receiving) end of the needle,” she says.

READ MORE | SA to take part in two more Covid-19 vaccine trials

Since Covid-19 became a serious threat to global health, researchers and scientists have been scrambling to find out as much as possible about the deadly disease, pushing through studies at high speed.

This research is critical in the fight against the coronavirus, and it's important that these studies are shared across the world to help develop treatment and vaccines faster in order to save lives.

But perhaps it's time to take a brief step back and look at the bioethics of these studies undertaken in such stressful times, as well as the ethical frameworks involved in on-the-ground decision making.

Nursing researchers - Connie Ulrich from the University of Pennsylvania, Emily Anderson from the Stritch School of Medicine and Jennifer Walter from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - wrote an editorial in AJOB Empirical Bioethics about the need for constructive bioethics research amid the flurry of Covid-19 studies.

"As bioethicists aim to contribute to conversations about what should be done to keep us all safe and healthy, ethical frameworks are applied to these novel circumstances to aid in ethical decision making, such as triage protocols, human challenge studies, and immunity passports," write the researchers.

Bioethics research needs to go hand-in-hand with empirical evidence to accept and reject various approaches to the pandemic, based on real-life scenarios, to better help global decision making when it comes to the virus.

READ MORE | Covid research is moving fast: How ethical are we during the time of the pandemic?

People getting their Covid-19 information from social media are more likely to receive misinformation, Canadian researchers report.

But those who trust traditional media are less likely to have misperceptions. And they're more likely to stick to public health recommendations such as physical distancing, the research team found.

For the study, researchers looked at millions of tweets, thousands of news stories and a survey of Canadians.

"Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are increasingly becoming the primary sources of news and misinformation for Canadians and people around the world," said researcher Aengus Bridgman, from McGill University in Montreal.

"In the context of a crisis like Covid-19, however, there is good reason to be concerned about the role that the consumption of social media is playing in boosting misperceptions," Bridgman said in a university news release.

False information about Covid-19 is more readily found on social media like Twitter than on traditional news outlets, Bridgman and colleagues found.

READ MORE | More social media use, more fake Covid news

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