Infectious Diseases

16 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Latest on schools, and hard-hitting trauma numbers

The reopening of schools is under discussion, the president says; and according to a report, the Western Cape's daily trauma cases went up 62% when the alcohol ban was lifted.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 311 049.

According to the latest update, 4 453 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 160 693 recoveries.

So far, more than 2.27 million tests have been conducted, with 45 389 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

In light of a warning by the World Health Organisation (WHO) with regard to the reopening of schools while Covid-19 is approaching its peak, President Cyril Ramaphosa says the matter is currently under discussion.

The WHO this week said the reopening of schools in any country would only be safe in the context of low community transmissions of Covid-19.

South Africa is now fast approaching its peak, with confirmed cases exceeding 300 000 and with Ramaphosa announcing to the country on Sunday that the Covid-19 storm had arrived.

South African pupils have been gradually returning to classrooms, with matriculants and Grade 7 learners starting in June, followed by other grades and Grade R learners this month.

Schools were shut in March when Ramaphosa implemented a hard lockdown.

On Wednesday evening, the president, during a virtual Imbizo with different communities across the country, said because of the stance of the WHO and the country's largest teachers' union Sadtu (SA Democratic Teachers Union), the matter needed to be reviewed again.

READ MORE | Reopening of schools under discussion, Ramaphosa and govt to engage with stakeholders

South Africa is now recording new coronavirus cases every day at a rate higher than any other country in the world when reported Covid-19 infections are compared by population size.

On average for the week of 6 to 13 July, the country recorded 19.6 cases per 100 000 people – a growth rate higher than every other country in the world currently.

The calculation is made by taking the daily case increases over time and finding the proportion per 100 000 people of the population these daily new cases represent.

Comparatively, SA is testing at a lower rate than other countries – which gives rise to fears there are a high number of cases that remain undetected. When testing per day is mapped on a similar seven-day average of tests per 100 000 people, it is clear that testing in South Africa is outpacing many of the "top 10" countries with the highest cumulative infections, but lags behind countries that have found a similar number of cases, such as the United Kingdom.

READ MORE | SA Covid cases growing at a higher rate than any other country - but we have one of the lowest mortality rates 

Western Cape health officials are cautiously optimistic about the trajectory of Covid-19 in the province but say they are not "resting on their laurels" as they continue to monitor the virus's progression.

This was according to the provincial department head, Dr Keith Cloete, who briefed the Western Cape legislature on their response to the disease on Wednesday.

"It is early days but really looking like hospitalisation and deaths are stabilising and even potentially showing an early decline in the Western Cape," he told the provincial ad-hoc committee on Covid-19.

He cautioned that uncertainty remained, both statistically in the models, and more generally in key assumptions, such as the use of Dexamethasone.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Hospitalisation, deaths starting to flatten in Western Cape, but still 'early days'

Hard-hitting statistics have been released by health authorities, which reinforces President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement that alcohol will be banned again.

On Tuesday, the "Sentinel Trauma Report" was made public by national Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize.

The report was compiled by the Western Cape health department, initially after alcohol sales were legalised on 1 June. The report has since been updated with July's statistics.

The report concludes with recommendations, which were submitted prior to the recent re-banning of alcohol.

"As we approach the peak of the Covid-19 epidemic, our hospital emergency centres are being inundated with severely ill Covid-19 patients requiring stabilisation, emergency management and admission for further care.

"The lifting of the alcohol ban has effectively resulted in a 62% increase in daily trauma cases presenting to emergency centres. In addition, we have seen trauma admissions increase by 54%, trauma ICU admissions increase by 350% and trauma deaths in the [emergency centres] increase by 308%!

"This increase currently has and will continue to stretch [emergency centre] capacity; it has increased the number of admissions to wards; and it is depleting our ability to effectively manage and prevent the mortality from the double burden of Covid-19 and trauma deaths as we approach peak.

"We would like to maintain the firm recommendation that the alcohol ban be reinstated to minimise the impact on our health services in their ability to manage Covid-19 in the Western Cape," the recommendations concluded.

READ MORE | Western Cape's daily trauma cases went up 62% after lifting of alcohol ban - report


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 13.43 million, while deaths were more than 581 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 3.46 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 137 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Governments around the world imposed various methods to try and curb the spread of the coronavirus. South Africa opted for a hard lockdown from the get-go, while the UK went into lockdown a lot later, only after the numbers of positive cases surged.

Sweden is one of the few countries that imposed no government-mandated lockdowns, rather placing the onus on its residents to be responsible for their own safety. It's been used by both sides of the lockdown debate as an example for stricter or laxer regulations.

But the question is how effective was this compared to countries that instituted various degrees of lockdown?

Researchers from the University of Virginia used Sweden's population, employment, and household data to analyse the effects of two different coronavirus lockdown strategies over a 160-day period.

In these models, they looked at ICU demand and death rate and compared it to the real-life Swedish data of April, publishing their findings in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal.

READ MORE | Sweden's lack of lockdown: What researchers found


Since relatively early in the coronavirus outbreak, it feels like we've been hearing the same advice: wear your mask, stay home, especially if you feel ill and keep 2m away from other people.

But a new survey study published in JAMA posed the question of whether evidence-based public health campaigns aiming to contain the coronavirus could actually improve people's awareness of the disease, as well as their personal behaviour.

This survey study was designed to uncover all the self-admitted gaps in behaviour regarding physical distancing and personal hygiene in the Netherlands, and to determine if and why public campaigns are not working as they should.

The researchers then used the results of the diagnostic survey to design a social media campaign in an effort to improve citizens' behaviour and prevent the spread of Covid-19. The campaign was launched on 21 March 2020 and consisted of a news article in a large Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, complete with infographics to relay the information from the survey.

READ MORE | Wash your hands, wear a mask, distance... Do people actually listen?

With the coronavirus outbreak, hand sanitiser quickly became a sought-after commodity, selling like hotcakes and leading to a dire shortage. Soon, web browsers saw a surge in panic searches for do-it-yourself recipes, but while it may sound like a fun project, you may want to think twice about experimenting in your kitchen-turned-lab. Here’s why.

Homemade hand sanitiser may be quick to prepare, and is arguably more cost-effective than the store-bought alternative, but it isn’t necessarily the best.

Pharmaceutical scientist Dr Alexander Edwards told The Telegraph that manufacturers of these disinfectants use very specific procedures to make them and to ensure that they’re safe, and that going to the DIY route may not turn out to be successful.

“One of the most important things about hand sanitiser is the ethanol, which is what kills bugs. Hand sanitisers typically contain 60% ethanol, but it’s very hard to find any spirits which have that much alcohol to start with,” Edwards said.

READ MORE | DIY hand sanitiser: Why there shouldn't be an over-reliance on it for coronavirus protection

A leading Covid-19 vaccine contender has passed its early safety trial with flying colours.

The vaccine, created by Moderna, produced an immune response in all 45 healthy participants who received two shots 28 days apart, according to findings reported July 14 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The vaccine (named mRNA-1273 for now) uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to trigger an immune response to the Covid-19 coronavirus in patients.

Genetically derived from the virus, the mRNA vaccine essentially mimics a natural Covid-19 infection, tricking the body into producing antibodies that hopefully will protect against future infections.READ MORE | Moderna Covid-19 vaccine 'promising' after early trial

READ MORE | Moderna Covid-19 vaccine 'promising' after early trial

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