Infectious Diseases

17 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Masks explained, and latest from Western Cape, KZN

The situation with masks explained; concerns grow as cases grow in KZN hotspots; and "too early to say the worst is over" in the Western Cape.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 324 221.

According to the latest update, 4 669 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 165 591 recoveries.

So far, 2.32 million tests have been conducted, with 46 796 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Confusion arose on Monday when Justice Minister Ronald Lamola announced new measures around the wearing of masks in public, with many people interpreting that not wearing one is now a criminal offence.

However, the minister said the onus to ensure that everyone wears a mask has been placed on the shoulders of store managers, building owners and managers, and not on individuals.

They can be criminally charged if they allow anyone into their premises without wearing a masks, he said.

Three South African legal experts agree that South African citizens cannot be criminally charged for not wearing a mask under the amended regulations.

However, entry to buildings or stores can be denied to those who do not wear masks.

North-West University law professor Elmien du Plessis told News24: "The problem comes in when the utterances made by ministers do not reflect what is stated in the regulations."

"When the ministers say it is an offence when it is not, it can lead to confusion and a situation where the people who enforce the laws act on discretion or a misunderstanding of what the law is. This undermines the rule of law."

EXPLAINER | Is not wearing a mask a criminal offence?

There are early indications of an easing of Covid-19 in the Western Cape, but it is too early to take the foot off the pedal, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said on Thursday.

Winde said this at his weekly "digicon", which is hosted on Thursdays to update the public on the province.

"... I can reveal that we are starting to see a gentle easing of pressure in the Metro in particular, with a possible decline," he told journalists during a media briefing.

"But let me be crystal clear: It is simply too early to say the worst is over. We simply do not know enough about the virus to claim so. We are still in the midst of a serious health pandemic."

Covid-19 in Western Cape: Possible decline, but 'too early to say the worst is over', says Winde

Statistics show that the Helen Joseph Hospital in Westdene, Johannesburg, saw 767 cases in its trauma unit in June, with 481 of those linked to assaults alone.

The month of June marked South Africa moving to alert Level 3 of the risk-adjusted lockdown strategy, which included the easing of restrictions such as the sale of alcohol and a dropping of the night-time curfew.

Both of these regulations were recently reinstituted by the government on Sunday.

In May, when the country was on Level 4 of the lockdown and the sale of alcohol was prohibited, the trauma unit saw 432 cases.

This equates to 335 less cases in the unit than in June. The unit is in one of the hospitals currently serving on the front line in the fight against Covid-19.

READ MORE | Helen Joseph Hospital saw more than 700 trauma cases in June, 481 of those were assaults

KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu has expressed concern over the rising number of coronavirus cases in the province, and urged residents to follow the health protocols.

"We should all be concerned about the spread of the virus in the province," the MEC said.

"Yes, eThekwini metro does have the largest population in the province, however if we all follow the regulations, we wouldn't have such [a] high number", she added.

Simelane-Zulu said the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) had helped them determine a hotspot by using the criteria of five infections per 100 people.

For every five people that are infected in an area considered to have 100 people, that area is regarded as a hotspot.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Concerns grow as cases grow in KZN hotspots

Three senior clinicians in the faculty of Health Sciences at Wits University have volunteered to participate in South Africa's first Covid-19 vaccine trial.

The dean of the faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, Professor Martin Veller, nephrologist and research director at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre Dr June Fabian and leading HIV clinician Professor Francois Venter, divisional director of Ezintsha at Wits University, were vaccinated on Tuesday in Soweto after they were screened and found to be eligible.

Fabian said her motivation for volunteering was about supporting local scientists in their endeavours to do world-class science.

"I think it's amazing that South Africa is a Covid-19 vaccine trial site and to be a part of that is very amazing.  We must support each other as a Wits community and we must support our colleagues," she said.

Veller said Africa needed to be involved in vaccine development as there was a moral obligation for the continent to be able to access the vaccine once it became available.

READ MORE | Three senior Wits University clinicians join SA's Covid-19 vaccine trial as participants


Cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Late on Thursday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 13.65 million, while deaths were more than 586 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - 3.53 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 138 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Hackers backed by the Russian state are trying to steal Covid-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions around the world, Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said on Thursday.

A co-ordinated statement from Britain, the United States and Canada attributed the attacks to group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear, which they said was almost certainly operating as part of Russian intelligence services.

"We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic," said NCSC Director of Operations, Paul Chichester.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab said it was "completely unacceptable" for Russian intelligence services to target work on the pandemic.

"While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health," he said in a statement. He said Britain would work with allies to hold perpetrators to account.

The NCSC said the group's attacks were ongoing and used a variety of tools and techniques, including spear-phishing and custom malware.

READ MORE | 'Russia-backed' hacker group Cozy Bear accused of trying to steal Covid-19 vaccine data


Children have been shown to be more resilient against Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, and emerging research has been shedding light on why this is the case. Among the ongoing research is a study that found differences between the lung physiology and immune function of children and adults.

The study was done by researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and Baylor College of Medicine, and was published in the journal American Journal of Physiology-Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology.

The findings resulted from a collaboration between paediatric and adult physicians, as well as experts in paediatric surgery, adult critical care, neonatology, and molecular biology.

In their paper, the researchers note that in the first 149 082 positive Covid-19 cases in the US, a low 1.7% of cases were infants, children and adolescents under the age of 18. Three paediatric deaths were identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of April 2020.

READ MORE | More scientific reasons why children are largely sheltered from Covid-19

A tuberculosis vaccine may help reduce the risk of death from Covid-19, researchers suggest.

Developing countries have lower-than-expected Covid-19 death rates, and a TB vaccine given in countries with high rates of tuberculosis might play a significant role in reducing Covid-19 death rates, according to authors of a new study.

The vaccine, which is routinely given to children in countries where TB infection is common, is called Bacille Calmette-Guérin, or BCG for short. It is not widely used in the United States.

"In our initial research, we found that countries with high rates of BCG vaccinations had lower rates of mortality," said Luis Escobar, an assistant professor in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech.

"But all countries are different: Guatemala has a younger population than, say, Italy, so we had to make adjustments to the data to accommodate those differences," he said in a university news release.

For the study, Escobar and colleagues at the US National Institutes of Health collected Covid-19 death data from around the world.

READ MORE | Evidence mounts that TB vaccine might help protect against Covid-19

As Covid-19 continues to cause devastation around the world, researchers are making new discoveries every day, showing how the virus is causing severe sickness and death in many people.

Now, new research from Wuhan, China, shows that abnormally high blood sugar in Covid-19 patients is associated with more than double the risk of death and increased risk of complications – but the scary thing is that these high blood sugar levels occurred in Covid-19 patients without previous diabetes.

The study was published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD). The aim of this study, however, was to determine the correlation between high fasting blood glucose and the clinical outcome for Covid-19 who were not previously diagnosed with diabetes.

READ MORE | High blood sugar in Covid-19 patients who have never had diabetes can cause death

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