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Infectious Diseases

17 September 2020

Coronavirus morning update: SA moving to lockdown Level 1; and update on PPE corruption

South Africa is moving to lockdown Level 1 - what you need to know; and the president says Covid-19 has exposed how corruption has infected society.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 653 444.

According to the latest update, 15 705 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 584 195 recoveries.

So far, a total of 3.96 million tests have been conducted, with 20 962 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that South Africa will move to Alert Level 1 of the lockdown at midnight on Sunday.

This will see larger gatherings being permitted, along with international travel, the sale of alcohol allowed from Monday to Friday, and the curfew shifted to midnight.

In his address to the nation on Wednesday evening, the president said the country had weathered the Covid-19 storm - but he also warned of a potential second wave of the pandemic and asked citizens to continue being vigilant in this regard.

"It is time to return our country to a situation that is more normal, it is time to move to what we call a new normal for as long as Covid is with us," said the president.

Confirming some of the speculation leading up to his address, the president said it was time for South Africa to remove many of the remaining restrictions to economic activity in the country.

READ MORE | Ramaphosa announces move to Level 1: 'Prepare for the new normal'

The president introduced relaxed curfew and liquor sale rules as well the reopening of the country's borders.

In a televised address, Ramaphosa said as the country opened up, the greatest challenge - and its greatest task - was to ensure it avoided a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

"In many cases, the second wave has been more severe than the first. [And] several countries have had to re-impose a hard lockdown."

He added due to reduced pressure for hospital beds, and reduced daily new positive infections, the country was able to move to a lower lockdown level.

"We have succeeded in overcoming the worst phase of this epidemic while protecting the capacity of our health system."

EXPLAINER | Liquor sales, new curfew: What Level 1 lockdown will look like

President Cyril Ramaphosa has received the first interim report from the Special Investigating Unit, with details on the progress made so far in investigations related to the misuse of Covid-19 funds.

The president provided an update on efforts to clamp down on Covid-19 corruption, which has bedeviled the state's roll-out of emergency funding and tenders.

There have been multiple allegations of corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment, implicating some individuals connected to ANC officials.

"The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the extent to which corruption has infected our society and robbed our country of vital resources at the time we need them most," the president said.

The president said that the SIU is working alongside eight other agencies at the Covid-19 fusion centre who are detecting, investigating and prosecuting "any instances of corruption".

"We continue to work to strengthen our anti-corruption efforts through measures to provide the NPA and other law enforcement agencies with the human and financial resources needed to tackle corruption, strengthening of specialised commercial crime courts, which will help expedite Covid-related cases, and the finalisation of the new National Anti-Corruption Strategy."

National Treasury has also published online details of Covid-19 related contracts awarded by public entities, at both national and provincial level, in order to "encourage transparency and accountability," Ramaphosa said.

READ MORE | Ramaphosa: Covid-19 has exposed how corruption has infected society

Many more South Africans may be getting coronavirus tests soon, even if they show no symptoms of Covid-19.

SA is now in a position to expand testing for Sars-CoV-2, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation on Wednesday night, and intends to use that leeway to gather more data.

Health authorities plan to test three new groups of people.

At the same time, South Africa will launch a national seroprevalence survey, Ramaphosa said. Such surveys use antibody tests, which detect people who have had the coronavirus, regardless of wether their infection is active at the time, or if they ever showed symptoms of the Covid-19 caused by Sars-CoV-2.

"A nationwide study will allow scientists to estimate the extent of asymptomatic infections and immunity within the population, as well as better understand the transmission patterns of the virus," Ramaphosa said.

READ MORE | You may be getting a coronavirus test if you go to hospital – and even if you don’t

The Department of Basic Education has revised promotion requirements for Grade 10 and 11 pupils due to the impact of Covid-19.

This according to a circular issued by the department's director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, on 12 September directed to, among others, provincial departments, the South African Qualifications Authority, school governing body associations, the Independent Examinations Board and teachers' organisations.

The three-page circular, which News24 has seen, stated the Covid-19 lockdown and intermittent school closures have had an impact on teaching, learning and assessments, resulting in the revision of the promotion requirements for the 2020 schooling year.

The department's spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, confirmed the document to News24.

According to the department, paragraph 29 of the policy document, the National Policy on the Programme and Promotion Requirements of the National Curriculum Statements Grades R to 12, made provision for the promotion requirements for grades 10 to 12.

It said the current 25% weighting for school-based assessments (SBAs) for grades 10 and 11 had, therefore, now increased to 60% and the examination component decreased to 40%. This will now see a weighting of 60:40 compared to the known 25:75.

READ MORE | Basic education dept revises promotion requirements for grades 10,11 due to impact of Covid-19

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.

Early on Thursday morning, positive cases worldwide were close to 29.69 million, while deaths were more than 937 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 6.62 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 196 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The global economy faces the prospect of the most dramatic collapse this year since the second World War, as the coronavirus pandemic rampages through the world population, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Wednesday.

In its latest economic outlook on Wednesday, the OECD said the world economy will contract by 4.5% this year, an improvement on its most recent prediction of 7.6% in the event of a second coronavirus wave.

Some of the world's emerging-market powerhouses, such as India and Mexico, could see a double-digit contraction in their economies, it said.

"The world is facing an acute health crisis and the most dramatic economic slowdown since the second World War. The end is not yet in sight," Laurence Boone, the OECD chief economist, said.

Output will grow by 5% in 2021, the report said, but the outlook remains "exceptionally uncertain" because of a number of factors.

READ MORE | OECD warns the world economy will collapse by 4.5% this year, worst slowdown since World War Two

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday touted a controversial and potentially deadly strategy to combat the coronavirus pandemic — and misspoke while he was at it.

"It would go away without the vaccine," Trump said about the disease during an ABC News town hall.

"Over a period of time, sure, with time, it goes away and you'll develop, you'll develop like a herd mentality, it's going to be herd-developed, and that's going to happen. That will all happen," he added.

Trump appeared to be talking about herd immunity, which occurs when enough of a population has developed resistance to a virus — whether through exposure or a vaccine — to interrupt. This method involves allowing the disease to spread through young and healthy people while protecting vulnerable groups like the elderly.

Sweden adopted this approach and didn't shut down to curb the spread of the coronavirus. It wound up with far more deaths than neighboring countries that did enforce lockdowns.

READ MORE | Trump floats 'herd mentality' coronavirus strategy - and insists the disease will disappear

LATEST RESEARCH

Even though influenza caused global devastation back in 1918, we don't nowadays regard “the flu” as a deadly disease – although it can still make some people very ill.

One hypothesis that's been doing the rounds since the beginning of the outbreak, is that Covid-19 might become a seasonal occurrence.

A new review, recently published in Frontiers in Published Health, states that Covid-19 might become seasonal in countries with temperate climates, but only when there is herd immunity.

But until then, Covid-19 will continue to circulate across seasons and, in the absence of a vaccine, public health measures such as masks and stringent hand hygiene will need to be applied to contain the virus.

According to Dr Hassan Zaraket, senior study other from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, Covid-19 is here to stay and will continue to cause outbreaks all year, until herd immunity is achieved.

“The public will need to learn to live with it and continue practising the best prevention measures including wearing of masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene and avoidance of gatherings,” he stated.

READ MORE | Will Covid-19 become seasonal like influenza?

Tracking SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is key to understanding how it spreads and mutates over time.

According to ScienceMag, the virus accumulates about two changes per month in its genome (the genetic material). For this reason, sequencing its genome can help researchers follow how it spreads.

Genome sequencing, as this Health24 article explains, is the process of “figuring out” the exact order of DNA nucleotides in a virus (similar to letters in a sentence, but without punctuation and capitals).

But does this constant evolving, as it spreads from person to person, mean that it could have implications for the course of the pandemic? A recent article in Nature draws on the work of virologists who have been studying the virus since the start of the pandemic. Here’s what the current research suggests

In the article, virologist David Montefiori explains that SARS-CoV-2 is changing much more slowly than the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as it spreads. In the case of HIV, mutations are very common as the virus replicates extremely rapidly.

Along with Bette Korber, an expert in HIV evolution, Montefiori, who directs an Aids-vaccine research laboratory at Duke University in Durham, studied thousands of coronavirus genetic sequences for mutations that possibly changed the virus’s properties over time, and as it spread across the globe.

READ MORE | Does it matter that the Covid-19 virus is mutating?

Covid-19 can damage the kidneys and increase patients' risk of needing kidney dialysis, researchers report.

The study authors also warned that doctors should prepare for a significant rise in chronic kidney disease cases due to the pandemic.

For the study, the investigators analysed data from nearly 4 000 Covid-19 patients, aged 18 and older, hospitalised at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City between 27 February and 30 May, 2020.

Acute kidney injury (AKI) occurred in 46% of the patients, and one-fifth of those required dialysis, according to the study published on 3 September in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

The in-hospital death rate was 50% among those with AKI, compared with 8% among those who didn't have AKI. Only 30% of those who developed AKI survived and had kidney recovery, the findings showed.

READ MORE | Covid-19 takes heavy toll on kidneys

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