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Infectious Diseases

30 May 2020

Coronavirus morning update: New court bid over cigarettes, schools latest, and price hike fines

Your latest coronavirus news: New urgent court bid over cigarettes ban; rules and guidelines released as SA gears up to open schools; and R13m in fines for unfair price hikes.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 29 250, after 1 837 new cases were reported.

According to the latest update, 611 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 15 093 recoveries.

So far, 680 175 tests have been conducted, with 24 452 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

British American Tobacco South Africa says it will on Friday recommence with urgent legal proceedings to challenge the government’s decision to extend the ban on tobacco sales during Level 3 of the nationwide lockdown.

The state says the ban is needed to safeguard public health, as evidence suggests cigarette smokers are more likely to develop severe Covid-19 symptoms than non-smokers.

BATSA, the country's largest cigarette manufacturer, said in a statement it was supported in this action by Japan Tobacco International as well as "groups and organisations representing the tobacco value chain across the country, including consumers, tobacco farmers and retailers".

"BATSA has made every effort to constructively engage with the government since the ban came into force, including making detailed submissions, along with other interested parties, to various Ministers, as well as directly to the Presidency," it said in a statement.

READ MORE | British American Tobacco in new urgent court bid to undo cigarette ban

The Department of Education has released rules and guidelines as the country gears up to open schools from Monday, beginning with grades 7 and 12, but if you do not want your child to attend you must apply for an exemption and home schooling.

According to the guidelines gazetted on Friday, there will be strict screening for Covid-19 at schools, and parents and guardians should start thinking of a Plan B for transport if their child is found to have one of the following symptoms during the screening:

- Cough, sore throat, redness of eyes, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing, body aches, loss of smell or loss of taste, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, weakness or tiredness.

If these are detected at the school, they should be reported to the compliance officer or designated official and the school must:

- Not permit the person to enter the premises.

- If the person is already on the school premises or office, they must be isolated immediately.

- The parent or guardian must be contacted to make arrangements to transport the pupil home to self-isolate or for medical treatment or testing in a way that does not put anybody else at risk.

- The school must assess the risk of transmission and disinfect any official, teacher or pupil's workstation.

- Refer people who may be at risk for screening.

- Take any other appropriate measure to prevent possible transmission.

Anybody diagnosed with Covid-19 and who has been isolated, can only go back to the office or school after they have tested negative.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Here are the rules and dates for grades going back to school

The Competition Commission has tackled over 1 500 cases of unfair pricing of essential items since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and has issued fines of over R13 million in total, according to Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele.

Bonakele on Friday provided an update on the watchdog's work in clamping down on firms which have been unfairly hiking prices on products such as face masks, hand sanitisers and other essential goods.

Some of the fines, he said, had been redirected as donations to the Solidarity Fund.

There are also 30 firms in various stages of concluding settlement agreements after authorities found they had increased prices unfairly, he added.

READ MORE | Competition watchdog issues over R13m in fines for unfair price hikes uring pandemic

South Africa enters Level 3 of the lockdown from 1 June. This will see schools and most of the economy reopening, as well as religious gatherings being permitted under strict conditions.

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing on Tuesday that religious gatherings of up to 50 people would be permitted under Level 3, some religious institutions have decided to keep their doors closed for safety reasons, while others are advising that strict measures be in place before congregants gather.

The rules for services were released on Thursday night, Business Insider South Africa reported.

Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognised places of worship will be not be allowed to have more than 50 congregants, and services will only be permitted to run for two hours.

READ MORE | To open or not? Some places of worship stick with praying at home

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 Friday night, positive cases worldwide were close to 5.88 million, while deaths were almost 363 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1.73 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 102 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

President Donald Trump said on Friday he was breaking off US ties with the World Health Organisation, which he says failed to do enough to combat the initial spread of the novel coronavirus.

Trump had already suspended funding to the UN agency, accusing it of being a "puppet" of China as the global health crisis erupted.

"Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization," Trump told reporters.

The Republican leader said the US would be "redirecting those funds to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs."

READ MORE | Trump says US is to cut ties with WHO

LATEST RESEARCH

Health24 recently reported on a general backlog in coronavirus testing in South Africa, and explained how our tests work.

Currently, our laboratories make use of one of the most-used diagnostic tools – the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction test (RT-PCR). This test makes use of a swab from the nasal passage or throat, where viral particles are then isolated from the sample.

While these tests play a huge role across the globe to help determine the spread of Covid-19, researchers at John Hopkins have found that they might be likely to give a false negative – where a virus cannot be detected through the sputum sample, even when a person is infected.

According to the research that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the odds of a false negative through RT-PCR is one in five, and sometimes, even higher.

READ MORE | Scientists warn of false-negative results with Covid-19 virus tests - what are the SA implications?

The new coronavirus, which was declared a pandemic in March this year, has arguably become the current biggest, immediate health threat in the world. Lockdowns have been initiated in many countries, making the virus not just a threat to physical well-being, but to millions’ of people’s psychological well-being too. A recent online poll, conducted by Ipsos from 7–10 May 2020, asked South Africans whether they were suffering from the following as a result of Covid-19:

- Anxiety

- Overeating or undereating

- Under-exercising or over-exercising

- Insomnia

- Depression

- Decreasing or increasing alcohol use

- Migraines

- Increased smoking

The online poll was part of a larger global poll of more than 16 000 people.

Out of the above conditions listed and included in the poll, anxiety (31%), overeating (29%), and under-exercising (29%) came out as the top conditions South Africans are suffering from. This is followed by insomnia (25%), depression (20%), and decreasing alcohol use (17%).

Only three in every ten online South Africans (30%) who partook in the study indicated that they do not suffer from any of these conditions. However, it is unclear whether participants of the poll were suffering from these conditions before the pandemic.

READ MORE | Anxiety, overeating and under-exercising - the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown on SA

Even though the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, is a completely new pathogen, with the first South African case announced on 5 March 2020, there are a couple of key similarities to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.

An editorial, published in The South African Medical Journal, looks at how the trajectory of Covid-19 could potentially follow that of H1N1.

Both Covid-19 and the H1N1 strain of influenza came to South Africa from other countries through travel, where it then spread to less affluent socioeconomic areas of the country. The editorial points out that, just like Covid-19, the highest number of cases of H1N1 influenza also occurred in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal.

Both H1N1 and Covid-19 first occurred in more affluent areas, but then filtered through to lower socioeconomic areas, where the impact of a pandemic is often devastating due to several factors. These can include a lack of basic hygiene products, potable water and poor sanitation. People usually live in overcrowded situations, which makes physical distancing nearly impossible.

READ MORE | How the 2009 H1N1 pandemic can give us more insight into Covid-19 in SA, according to scientists

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, US President Donald Trump announced that Americans need not worry because the new coronavirus was "like a flu".

Now, a new report finds the comparison was never valid.

"Public officials continue to draw comparisons between seasonal influenza and SARS-CoV-2 mortality, often in an attempt to minimise the effects of the unfolding pandemic," wrote Dr Jeremy Faust, of Harvard Medical School, and Dr Carlos del Rio, of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

But those comparisons are "apples and oranges", the physicians reported in an article published on 14 May in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

READ MORE | By the numbers, Covid-19 was never 'like the flu'

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