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Infectious Diseases

18 June 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Lockdown latest - further easing of Level 3 restrictions

The president has announced the further easing of lockdown regulations - with casinos, theatres and hairdressers to return.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 80 412.

According to the latest update, 1 674 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 44 331 recoveries.

So far, more than 1.2 million tests have been conducted, with 28 202 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the further easing of lockdown regulations to alleviate the distress experienced by numerous sectors of the economy which have been shut since the beginning of the lockdown in March.

He addressed the nation on Wednesday evening following a Cabinet meeting that discussed the country's approach to combating the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as lockdown regulations.

Ramaphosa said the pandemic was not only a global health crisis, but also an economic one which had disrupted the livelihoods of millions of people.

"No country, no industry and no person is unaffected."

READ MORE | Ramaphosa eases more restrictions under Level 3

A wide range of businesses and services will be allowed to return to work again soon, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Wednesday.

Details – and dates – are still to follow, but close-contact services such as hairdressers, and group events such as business conferences, will all be unbanned, Ramaphosa said.

These were previously considered too dangerous as potential spreading grounds for Sars-CoV-2.

The cabinet decision to reopen such businesses followed "discussions with industry representatives on stringent prevention protocols and after advice from our scientists and consultation at a provincial level with our premiers as well as discussions in the National Coronavirus Command Council," Ramaphosa said.

READ MORE | Relaxed lockdown: Casinos, theatres – and hairdressers – to return, Ramaphosa says

Chief economist of the Bureau for Economic Research Hugo Pienaar said that while it is "good news" that there is a further opening up of the economy with more industries being allowed to operate, it is yet to be determined if consumers would be willing to flock to restaurants and cinemas at a time while infection rates are picking up.

"This is now becoming tricky [for businesses]. These are now services or industries where social distancing is quite difficult ... It is in the business' interest to put in place necessary protocols," he said.

Chief economist for IQ Business Sifiso Skenjana said there would certainly be "depressed demand" from consumers, off the back of the "cultural shock" of social distancing. But this does not mean there will be no activity.

"Any economic activity would make a meaningful difference, especially with these sectors employing more than a half a million people," Skenjana said.

READ MORE | Hairdressers, restaurants and casinos to open - but will consumers bite?

The number of Covid-19 cases across South African prisons has climbed to 1 622, with 12 deaths recorded so far, and 665 recoveries.

Department of Correctional Services Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said 623 of those testing positive were officials, while 999 were inmates.

A total of 665 people had recovered, said Nxumalo. Eight deaths have occurred in the Western Cape and four in the Eastern Cape.

News24 reported that, in order to curb the spread of the virus in prisons, the department was releasing 19 000 "low risk" prisoners from its 240 prisons.

Covid-19: Prison cases climb to 1 622, with 12 deaths

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.

Early on Thursday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 8.28 million, while deaths were more than 446 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - close to 2.16 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 117 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Beijing's airports cancelled two-thirds of all flights on Wednesday and schools in the Chinese capital were closed again as authorities rushed to contain a new coronavirus outbreak and warned infections may rise.

The city reported 31 new cases while officials urged residents not to leave Beijing, with fears growing about a second wave of infections in China, which had largely brought the contagion under control since its emergence in Wuhan late last year.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been tested so far following the fresh outbreak, which is believed to have started in the sprawling Xinfadi wholesale food market.

Almost 30 residential compounds in the city are now under lockdown.

"Because the Xinfadi market is the largest marketplace selling daily necessities, with thousands of migrant workers and a large number of visitors, it is hard to control the spread," said Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We may see a rise in confirmed cases in the coming days," Pang told a regular press briefing.

READ MORE | Beijing cancels flights, shuts schools over new virus outbreak

The World Health Organisation said it had decided on Wednesday to halt trials of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for Covid-19 patients, finding it did not reduce the mortality rate.

Doctor Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, from the WHO's health emergencies programme, told a virtual press conference in Geneva that the antimalarial drug was being withdrawn from its multi-country Solidarity Trial of potential treatments.

"The internal evidence from the Solidarity/Discovery Trial, the external evidence from the Recovery Trial and the combined evidence from these large randomised trials, brought together, suggest that hydroxychloroquine - when compared with the standard of care in the treatment of hospitalised Covid-19 patients - does not result in the reduction of the mortality of those patients," she said.

"Based on this analysis and on the review of the published evidence, the Executive Group of the Solidarity/Recovery Trial has met on two occasions and today we met with all the principal investigators.

"After deliberation, they have concluded that the hydroxychloroquine arm will be stopped from the Solidarity Trial."

READ MORE | WHO halts Covid-19 hydroxychloroquine trials

LATEST RESEARCH

In a trial, the steroid dexamethason was found to have saved the lives of a third of the most serious Covid-19 cases, according to results hailed on Tuesday as a "major breakthrough" in the fight against the disease, News24 reported on 16 June 2020.

Researchers led by a team from the University of Oxford administered the widely available drug to more than 2 000 severely ill Covid-19 patients, mostly on ventilators. Deaths of those patients were reduced by 35%.

But what is this widely available, affordable steroid that made the headlines?

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid, which is similar to a natural hormone we all produce in our adrenal glands. When your body doesn’t make enough of this hormone, it needs to be replaced.

Dexamethasone is usually prescribed to relieve inflammation such as swelling, redness and pain in the body. Doctors prescribe this medication for certain forms of arthritis and severe allergic reactions that can lead to swelling, as well as asthma.

READ MORE | All about dexamethasone, which researchers say is a 'breakthrough' Covid-19 treatment

Almost half of hospitalised patients with Covid-19 have presented with neurological symptoms, including headache, dizziness, decreased alertness, difficulty concentrating, disorders of smell and taste, seizures, strokes, weakness and muscle pain. This is according to a new review – based on current literature on Covid-19 cases – that was published in Annals of Neurology by researchers from Northwestern University this month.

“Initially thought to be restricted to the respiratory system, we now understand that coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) also involves multiple other organs including the central and peripheral nervous system,” the researchers wrote.

The review specifically looks at various neurological conditions that may occur in Covid-19 patients, and offers advice for physicians on how to diagnose these patients.

The number of neurological manifestations of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, the disease, is rapidly increasing, the authors wrote, and say that it’s important for both the general public and physicians to be aware of this – particularly because these symptoms may show before the more common symptoms listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) likely to be experienced first, such as fever and a dry cough.

READ MORE | Headache, dizziness before fever may signal Covid-19 and affect entire nervous system

A particular mutation in one strain of the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus may have helped it infect more human cells and turn it into the dominant strain worldwide, new laboratory research shows.

Researchers at Scripps Research in Jupiter, Florida, stressed that their finding doesn't mean the virus is any more lethal. And because this was research conducted in a lab, it doesn't yet confirm that the mutation makes the strain more likely to spread among people, they added.

Still, "viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used," study senior author and virologist Hyeryun Choe, said in a Scripps news release.

Since the beginning of the global pandemic of Covid-19, experts have wondered why the virus spread relatively easily in certain areas – New York City and Italy, for example – and yet was more easily contained in other places, such as San Francisco and Washington state.

READ MORE | Mutation helps coronavirus infect more human cells, study 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