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Infectious Diseases

24 June 2020

Coronavirus morning update: More than 2 000 deaths in SA, latest on vaccine trial, and schools

There are now more than 2 000 confirmed deaths in SA; what you need to know about the first SA Covid-19 vaccine trial; and what regulations say on the phased return of pupils.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 106 108.

According to the latest update, 2 102 deaths have been recorded in the country, after 111 new Covid-19 related deaths were reported - 78 in the Western Cape.

There have been 55 045 recoveries.

So far, more than 1.38 million tests have been conducted, with 29 596 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The Department of Basic Education has gazetted regulations surrounding schools operating during Covid-19, including dates for the phased return of pupils, as well as guidelines for parents who will not be sending their children back.

According to new regulations, released on Tuesday, Grades R, 1, 2, 3, 6, 10 and 11 will be able to return to school from 6 July.

Schools catering for pupils with severe intellectual disabilities (SID) will also be able to welcome Grades 1, 2, 3 and final-year pupils from this date, and schools with pupils with severe and profound intellectual disabilities (LSPID) will allow years 1-3 to return.

Autistic pupils below the age of 13, as well as final-year students who are 18 and above will also return on 6 July.

READ MORE | Schools reopening under lockdown: What regulations say on the phased return of pupils

The University of the Witwatersrand has announced South Africa's first Covid-19 vaccine trial and its first participants will be enrolled this week.

The trial aims to find a vaccine that will prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, which is the virus that causes Covid-19.

"This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we enter winter in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by Covid-19," Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University and Director of the South Africa Medical Research Council Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit, Shabir Madhi, said in a virtual briefing on Tuesday.

"We began screening participants for the South African Oxford 1 Covid-19 vaccine trial last week and the first participants will be vaccinated this week," he added.

READ MORE | Wits announces SA's first Covid-19 vaccine trial, first participants to be enrolled this week

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma does not have the reasons why the Covid-19 pandemic was declared a national disaster available.

The "scientific rationale" relied on to ban the sale of tobacco products is also not available, nor the reasons why alcohol sales are allowed under Level 3 lockdown.

This according to Dlamini-Zuma's recent written replies to questions posed by opposition MPs which were published in the past week.

DA MP Gizella Opperman asked her: "What are the reasons that informed the decision to declare Covid-19 a national disaster instead of a provincial or local disaster and what data was used to classify the disaster in terms of the Disaster Management Act, Act 57 of 2002?

Dlamini-Zuma's full response read: "The reasons that informed the decision to declare Covid-19 a national disaster will be submitted to the honourable member as soon as the detailed information is available. Thank you."

READ MORE | Dodging questions: Dlamini-Zuma does not have available the reasons a state of disaster was declared

Young scientists from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) say the rise in misinformation could be harmful to society, cautioning against sharing such information on social media as it may cause public panic.

Speaking during a briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday, organised as part of Youth Month, young researchers shared their work in cybercrime activities and the spread of misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nelisiwe Dlamini, a researcher at the CSIR, said it was important to verify information before hitting the share button, especially information about Covid-19.

"Some of the young people are becoming instigators of the spread of false information that has the potential to create panic during the pandemic in the country."

READ MORE | Covid-19: CSIR warns against sharing fake news, showcases technologies to curb spread of virus

The makers of the VW Beetle and famous "Volksiebus" kombi may soon manufacture an innovative new ventilator - to help save Covid-19 lives.

And the building skills by South Africa and Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA) have shown to be every bit as good as the famously fast hospital-builders in China.

These were among the announcements on Tuesday from national Health Minister Zweli Mkhize in the Eastern Cape, upon opening the new 3 300-bed field hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay.

No more information was offered on the new ventilator - but the technology could be part of an oxygen supply to the thousands of patients in the new field hospital.

"We are also very pleased to have had a conversation with VW on manufacturing non-invasive devices to deliver oxygen to patients who need assistance. We look forward to these developments because the guidelines for critical care are indicating that less invasive ventilation confers better outcomes," said Mkhize.

READ MORE | PICS: Mkhize, VW open Covid-19 field hospital with 3 300 beds in Eastern Cape

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 close to 9.16 million, while deaths were almost 474 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - almost 2.33 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 121 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

LATEST RESEARCH

The number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise in many countries around the world, and vaccine development is widely seen as the last hope for a return to normality.

Currently, there are more than 100 vaccines in development, but only six of these studies involve humans, said Professor Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, and director of the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC) vaccines and infectious diseases analytics research unit (VIDA), during a press conference hosted by Wits today. Madhi is also leading the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial.

Wits is collaborating with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the South African trial for the vaccine, known as the ChAdOx1-Cov19 vaccine.

The study will begin tomorrow, and here’s what it involves.

Who qualified for enrollment? Inclusion criteria for study volunteers involved a number of factors, said Madhi, including:

  • Healthy adults aged 18–65 years
  • Provision of written informed consent (includes an assessment of understanding of the study)
  • Documented result of not being infected with HIV. Able and willing to comply with all study requirements
  • For females only: a willingness to practise continuous effective contraception and a negative pregnancy test
  • For Groups-3 only (i.e. HIV-infected): need to have been on antiretroviral treatment for at least three months with HIV-1 viral load being <1 000 copies/ml within two weeks of randomisation

READ MORE | 6 things you need to know about the first SA Covid-19 vaccine trial

As the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, there are many factors about SARS-CoV-2 that baffle medical experts. Even though the majority of people recover from the disease, some deteriorate quickly and die.

We now understand that certain comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) increase one's risk for a more severe outcome. Adults over the age of 65 are also more likely to be hospitalised with severe Covid-19.

But now, new research led by National Institute for Health Research research professor Waljit Dhillo, who is affiliated to the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, shows that high levels of cortisol can be linked to the level of severity of the illness, according to a news release.

The new research was published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

READ MORE | High levels of stress hormone cortisol linked to Covid-19 deaths

The Ebola virus, Nipah virus, and coronaviruses such as SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, are some of the many viruses for which bats can be a natural host. While these viruses can cause severe harm in humans, scientists are trying to understand why bats don’t get sick.

Scientists from Stony Brook University in New York are therefore currently embarking on a new study that will investigate just how these kinds of viruses affect the cells of bats upon entry, but unlike previous studies that looked at the bat’s immune system, this study will specifically focus on their nasal passages, explained a news release by the University.

Study leader Liliana Dávalos, PhD, from the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, explained that similar studies focused on symptomatic disease and the bat’s immune system, but that focusing on the animal’s goblet cells may provide more insight.

Goblet cells are responsible for secreting mucus in the nasal passages, and the researchers hypothesise that coronaviruses may be attacking these cells differently in bats and humans.

READ MORE | Bats are immune to coronaviruses, so scientists are looking at what we can learn from them

Covid-19 spreads easily among people who live together and other family members, even before an infected person shows any symptoms, new research shows.

The study - published on 17 June in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal - also said that the new coronavirus spreads among household members more easily than severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Those conclusions emerged from an analysis of contract-tracing data from 349 Covid-19 patients and 1 964 of their close contacts in Guangzhou, China.

The analysis found that people with Covid-19 were as infectious before they developed symptoms as during their actual illness.

READ MORE | How easily does coronavirus spread at home?

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