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Infectious Diseases

Updated 22 April 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Lockdown warning for areas worst hit by virus, and R500bn relief package

Your latest coronavirus news: Areas worst hit by Covid-19 infections may continue to experience a hard lockdown when phased out elsewhere; unprecedented R500bn social and economic support package announced by the president; and massive deployment of additional 70 000 members authorised.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 3 465.

The Western Cape is now the second province to have more than 1 000 cases, after Gauteng.

No new deaths were reported - the total stands at 58.

So far, 126 937 tests have been conducted

READ MORE |All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a set of new measures aimed at saving the economy and countering growing hunger and distress across the country amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In his Tuesday evening address to the nation, Ramaphosa said the government had decided to implement a temporary six-month coronavirus grant.

In explaining the reason behind the decision, he added while economic measures have been put in place to assist workers whose wages were threatened as well as small businesses, he was concerned about the millions who were either in the informal sector, without jobs or struggling to survive.

"Poverty and food insecurity have deepened dramatically in the course of just a few weeks," said Ramaphosa.

READ MORE | Ramaphosa announces more relief measures for distressed South Africans

Areas worst hit by Covid-19 infections – Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal – may continue to experience a hard lockdown when this measure is phased out elsewhere, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said.

Dlamini-Zuma addressed the portfolio committee on cooperative governance and traditional affairs on Tuesday via videoconference on the lockdown measures.

She said before the lockdown, the number of infections doubled every three days. Since the lockdown, the spread has been much slower.

A spike in infection rates is expected after the lockdown, but to mitigate against it, there will be a phased relaxation of the lockdown.

READ MORE | Gauteng, KZN, Western Cape may have a longer lockdown, govt warns

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an unprecedented R500 billion social and economic support package to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday evening.

The stimulus package comes to some 10% of the country's GDP, he said.

Speaking in a televised address to provide an update on a special Cabinet meeting held last week, Ramaphosa said R130 billion of the amount will be supported by reprioritising funds from South Africa's existing Budget, with Finance Minister Tito Mboweni set to announce the adjustment budget in due course.

The rest would need to be funded externally, the president said, with organisations such as the World Bank, the Brics Bank and the International Monetary Fund having been approached.

READ MORE | The 7 biggest interventions in Ramaphosa's R500bn coronavirus support package

President Cyril Ramaphosa has informed Parliament he had authorised the deployment of an additional 73 180 members of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist the police in battling the spread of Covid-19.

In a letter to the Joint Standing Committee on Defence – which was tweeted by DA leader in the National Assembly John Steenhuisen - Ramaphosa said the extra troops would be deployed until 26 June 2020, augmenting the 2 280 who were already deployed.

The deployment will cost the fiscus almost R5 billion and it will consist of regular, reserve and auxiliary forces. 

Steenhuisen said the development was "very worrying". 

"This seems to suggest that the 'hard lockdown' will be enforced longer, beyond next Friday's deadline. We can’t extend the lockdown into perpetuity. I would rather spend the money on testing and tracing to make sure we know exactly what the extent of the virus is.

"This [the deployment] is not a good sign. Friday is going to be a turning point when people get their reduced salaries, debit orders start going off … we hope the soldiers aren't being called up to enforce the lockdown."

The committee's chairperson, Cyril Xaba, has confirmed the authenticity of the letter.

READ MORE | Ramaphosa mobilises SANDF in one of the country's biggest deployments in history

South African grant recipients will be seeing big jumps in their monthly payments over the next six months, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday night.

And South Africa will get its first ever broad grant, not aimed a specifically vulnerable group: a R350 per month payment, for six months, to those who are unemployed and are not receiving another form of grant.

It is not yet clear just how the unemployed will qualify for this "special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant", and what paperwork they will have to present to claim it.

In total R50bn will be spent on grant payments, Ramaphosa said – 10% of the total special coronavirus budget he announced, and around 1% of South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP).

READ MORE | Unemployed will get R2 100 each in Covid-19 payouts over 6 months, children R2 800 extra

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 Tuesday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 2.5 million, while deaths were almost 176 000.

The United States has the most cases in the world - more than 816 000, as well as the most deaths - nearly 44 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Half of the world's school and university students affected by class closures because of the coronavirus outbreak - from pre-primary to university level - do not have access to a computer for home-schooling, the UN's educational agency said Tuesday.

Highlighting "startling digital divides" between the rich and poor, a UNESCO statement added that 43% of young people have no access to internet at home.

This means roughly 826 million students have no home computer and some 706 million no internet at a time when "distance learning" is the only option available for most, with school closures in 191 countries of the world, UNESCO said.

"Disparities are particularly acute in low-income countries: in sub-Saharan Africa, 89% of learners do not have access to household computers and 82% lack internet access," the agency said.

READ MORE | Coronavirus: Half the world's locked-down pupils don't have a computer

The wealthiest in society, including the deep-pocketed of Silicon Valley, have developed a reputation for turning to New Zealand as a doomsday shelter destination hotspot.

And as Bloomberg reports, some of them may have already fled to their luxurious hideaways in the country as the coronavirus disease, known as Covid-19, continues to spread throughout the US.

Bay Area entrepreneur Mihai Dinulescu and his wife caught an Auckland-bound plane in early March, just four days before New Zealand closed its borders to foreigners, though local news outlets have reported private plane landings since the shutdown.

Dinulescu told Bloomberg that he's since connected with around 10 others who have also escaped to the country during the pandemic.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Some Silicon Valley execs reportedly fled to doomsday hideout spots

"Am I going to die?"

It was 11 days since Dr Vijay Battu's first symptoms, and four days since his admission as a patient to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. And now the ravages of Covid-19 had begun to make breathing nearly impossible.

"I asked because I was scared," recalled Battu. "It was horrible. I didn't feel like I was getting enough air. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't do anything. I wanted to call my lawyer, to make a will. But, honestly, I couldn't even put my finger on my phone to type. I just couldn't. I didn't have the energy."

Battu would eventually win his battle against Covid-19. But it was a harrowing journey back to health.

For Battu – an otherwise healthy 52-year-old ophthalmologist and attending surgeon at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary – it all began on March 12 with a little cough. The next afternoon, while at work, a fever took hold.

Other than allergies, Battu had no underlying conditions. "But my temperature was pretty high: 102.4," he said. And three of his friends already had Covid-19, after attending a small early-March house party in Miami. "The concept of physical distancing hadn't really happened yet," said Battu. "And at the time, none of us had symptoms."

READ MORE | Waging war against severe Covid-19: A US survivor's story

LATEST RESEARCH

At the beginning of the current coronavirus outbreak, we were inundated with guidelines that caused confusion, like if you should wash your hands with soap and water, and if hand sanitisers are less effective. And what do you do if you can't get to a basin with soap and water?

Now, an international research team headed by Professor Stephanie Pfänder from the Department of Molecular and Medical Virology at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) has confirmed that alcohol-based hand disinfectants are effective against the new coronavirus, according to a recent news release.

This research was published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The researchers exposed the new coronavirus to the WHO-recommended disinfectant formulations for 30 seconds.

Then the team analysed how much of the virus remained infectious after being exposed to the hand sanitiser.

"We showed that both WHO-recommended formulations sufficiently inactivate the virus after 30 seconds," said Prof Pfänder.

READ MORE | Scientists tested WHO-recommended disinfectants against the coronavirus – and they are effective

Government has rolled out an intensified screening and testing campaign in the hope of finding more Covid-19 cases during and after the lockdown period, but the disparity between the country’s testing capacity and the actual number of tests being conducted remains substantial. South Africa probably used less than a third of its Covid-19 testing capacity in the last week.

The extent of Covid-19 testing being conducted in the country will likely be an important factor in the decision over whether or not to extend South Africa’s current lockdown and what measures should follow the lockdown. 

The World Health Organization advises that when countries weigh up whether or not to lift social distancing restrictions, they should consider whether “health system capacities are in place to detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”.

South Africa’s National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) previously told Spotlight that it is able to do 15 000 tests a day, and plans to increase that to about 36 000 by the end of April. However, statistics released by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) indicate that South Africa has been doing only 3 000 to 5 000 tests on most days over the last week. 

READ MORE | Covid-19: Why is SA not testing more?

For many developing countries across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic is a small concern as they face the battle against other viral diseases, such as poliomyelitis (polio), measles, meningitis, human papillomavirus, and cholera. 

However, the majority of mass vaccination campaigns around the world have now stopped, public health leaders announced earlier this week, placing more than 100 million children globally at risk for these diseases.

Seth Berkley, head of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance described the predicament as “a devil's choice”, reports Science Magazine, as global health organisations had to make the decision to either continue with their vaccination campaigns and risk spreading the Covid-19 virus in the process, or suspend them, potentially triggering a rise in other infectious diseases.

The suspensions started on 24 March after Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) leaders advised countries to postpone campaigns until the second half of the year.

READ MORE | Vaccinations halted in several poor countries due to coronavirus fears

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.

READ MORE: Coronavirus 101 

Image credit: Getty Images