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Infectious Diseases

06 August 2020

Coronavirus morning update: 'Perverse justification' for cigarette ban, and latest on PPE tenders

Cigarette sales ban based on "perverse justification", court hears during British American Tobacco SA's challenge; and Cosatu says Covid PPE corruption is a "horror story".

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 529 877.

According to the latest update, 9 298 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 377 266 recoveries.

So far, a total of more than 3.11 million tests have been conducted, with 34 989 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Any benefit achieved by the continued ban on tobacco sales would be outweighed by far by the damage caused, British American Tobacco SA's legal team argued in the Western Cape High Court on Wednesday.

BATSA - South Africa's largest cigarette manufacturer, whose brands include Dunhill, Peter Stuyvesant and Lucky Strike - is challenging the ban. In a separate challenge, the Fair Trade Tobacco Association has approached the Supreme Court of Appeal for leave to appeal its case challenging the ban.

Advocate Alfred Cockrell SC argued on behalf of BATSA that the ban was aimed at reducing the occupation of intensive care unit (ICU) beds by smokers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The minister has indicated that the aim of the ban is to stop people from smoking so that they do not get Covid-19 in a more severe form, leading to having to occupy ICU beds when these are in great demand during the pandemic.

However, he argued, based on what Minister of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma alleged in her court documents, just 10% – 15% of the country's smokers will likely quit due to the ban because of the high price of illicit cigarettes.

Calling it a "perverse justification", Cockrell said the minister had not at any point said what would be done to stop people from purchasing illicit cigarettes.

READ MORE | Cigarette sales ban based on 'perverse justification', court hears

National Treasury has ended the emergency procurement process for Personal Protective Equipment and protective clothing, saying it's back to business as usual for government suppliers.

Going forward, full details of companies who have been awarded tenders will also be published to increase transparency.

This comes as government grapples with allegations of fraud in what was meant to be a quick process to ensure that South Africa had a steady supply of PPE and protective clothing during the pandemic.

No sooner had Treasury announced the Covid-19 budget, than thieves were already assembled at the door, waiting to steal, said Finance Minister Tito Mboweni.

The minister made the remarks at a briefing along with Treasury Director-General Dondo Mogajane on Wednesday. They informed the standing and select committees on finance regarding the procurement of personal and protective equipment (PPE) for Covid-19.

This followed reports of corruption in Covid-19-related tenders.

READ MORE | 'Thieves were waiting at the door': Mboweni ends emergency PPE procurement

The country's procurement system is "fundamentally flawed" and has created room for suppliers to "defraud" the state during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to ANC's alliance partner, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Cosatu's parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks on Wednesday, issued the federation's report on personal protective equipment (PPE) procurement, ahead of Finance Minister Tito Mboweni and Treasury's address to parliament on the same matter, due this afternoon.

In recent weeks allegations of politically-connected PPE tenders being awarded have surfaced. President Cyril Ramaphosa's spokesperson Khusela Diko and her husband as well as ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule's sons are among those who have allegedly benefited from Covid-19 tenders.

"The story of Covid PPE procurement is a horror story of the State wasting precious and scarce finances on corruption and unnecessary middlemen during the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes," Cosatu's report read. "Unfortunately, the problems we identify in this report are not unique to lockdown. But they are much more pronounced currently during lockdown."

Parks explained that the problems have arisen due to the shortcomings of the procurement system – it is not designed to mitigate fraud and abuse.

"By virtue of its size and scope, its decentralised nature and the lack of transparency, there are simply too many holes in the system that allow too many places for shadows to hide." Parks added that in its current form, the system does not allow "real monitoring and enforcement".

READ MORE | Covid-19 tender corruption a 'horror story' – Cosatu

South Africa has benefitted from various treatment developments that have led to a reduction in the mortality rate, as Covid-19 infections surge countrywide.

"It appears we may have benefitted from treatment developments as we were experiencing our surge," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said during a virtual Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday.

"Our indications are that there has already been an improvement in the survival rate from intensive care units [ICU], where the mortality has been reduced demonstrably. One study shows ICU mortality has been reduced by about 25% since the introduction of dexamethasone on 16 June," Mkhize said.

In another study undertaken by the South African Medical Research Council, ICU survival rates showed a dramatic improvement at 30% to 40%, whereas the ICU mortality rate at the beginning of the pandemic was around 80%.

READ MORE | ICU mortality reduced by at least 25% since the introduction of dexamethasone - Mkhize

The first team of experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), that will assist South Africa in its fight against the novel coronavirus, is set to arrive in the country on Wednesday.

A total of 43 senior experts from across the globe, including infectious disease epidemiologist and public health experts Dr David Heymann and Dr Mike Ryan, are among the team who will assist the country to refine its efforts against in fighting Covid-19.

"Dr Mike Ryan will lead the team from Geneva and will... provide us with constant advice while analysing our strategies, including the decisions we have taken as the Department of Health in our Covid-19 response," said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

The arrival of the team of experts comes as South Africa ranks in the top five globally in terms of the number of infections.

Making the announcement, Mkhize thanked WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for his continuous support and counsel.

READ MORE | Covid-19: WHO to send 43 experts to SA to assist with pandemic

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 Wednesday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 18.62 million, while deaths were more than 702 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 4.80 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 157 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Young people must curb their party instincts to help prevent new outbreaks of the Covid-19 disease, officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) pleaded on Wednesday.

Tired of lockdowns and eager to enjoy the northern hemisphere summer, young people in some countries have been contributing to resurgences by gathering again for parties, barbecues and holidays.

Even in Geneva, where the global UN health body is based, cabarets and clubs were closed last week after evidence that nearly half of new cases were coming from there.

"Younger people also need to take on board that they have a responsibility," said WHO emergencies chief and father-of-three Mike Ryan in an online discussion. "Ask yourself the question: Do I really need to go to that party?"

READ MORE | 'Do you really need to party?' WHO asks world's youth

LATEST RESEARCH

As the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, researchers are reporting many unpleasant and downright weird side effects of this disease – from neurological ailments such as confusion, to "Covid-toes" and rashes.

But it seems some Covid-19 patients are experiencing yet another side-effect – hair loss. According to a report by Science Alert, 56-year old Peggy Goroly, a Covid-19 patient from Long Island, New York, experienced severe fatigue, brain fog and heart palpitations. One perplexing symptom, however, was "traumatic" hair loss.

She asked members of a Facebook Covid-19 support group if she was the only one losing hair in clumps, and it turned out many patients were experiencing the same effect.

But how can Covid-19 affect your hair?

READ MORE | Could hair loss be another Covid-19-related side effect?

Scientists are continuing to investigate whether a TB vaccine can help fight Covid-19 – and the latest study makes it look quite likely.

The Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine helps fight severe tuberculosis (TB) and lung cancer, and in South Africa where we have some of the highest TB rates in the world, it's a mandated vaccine for babies. The BCG vaccine, however, doesn't prevent TB, it just considerably reduces the risk.

This isn't the first study on BCG and Covid-19, but the study published in ScienceAdvances addresses methodological weaknesses in previous studies where the focus was more on cumulative totals of cases and deaths.

According to the researchers, "Altogether, the available evidence suggests that BCG has beneficial effects on immunity against a range of lung-related infections that go beyond TB, which makes it a promising candidate for defending against Covid-19."

READ MORE | What the latest science says about a TB vaccine and Covid-19

The fate of more than 3 600 quarantined passengers and crew on the cruise ship Diamond Princess made headlines in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic in February.

An outbreak aboard the ship eventually led to nearly 700 infections and seven deaths from Covid-19.

Now, a genetic retracing of events shows the outbreak likely stemmed from just one infected person, with the virus spreading rapidly as people mingled at crowded shipboard events, Japanese researchers report.

One thing is certain, however: Quarantine and containment measures enacted after the virus was discovered did limit cases – and probably saved lives.

READ MORE | Gene study shows how coronavirus swept through cruise ship Diamond Princess

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