Infectious Diseases

15 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: SADTU says schools should close until after peak, and Gauteng latest

Your latest coronavirus news: Schools should close until Covid-19 peak passes, SADTU resolves; and latest news from Gauteng.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 298 292.

According to the latest update, 4 346 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 146 279 recoveries.

So far, more than 2.23 million tests have been conducted, with 38 114 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

South Africa's biggest teachers' union, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has resolved that schools should close amid a peak in Covid-19 cases in South Africa, it announced during a media briefing on Tuesday.

Sadtu's national executive committee held a meeting on Tuesday to pen a way forward as infections spiked in the country, affecting pupils and teachers.

Reading the statement, the union's secretary general Mugwena Maluleke said its NEC resolved that schools close until the end of the peak.

Maluleke said evidence on the ground showed that there was no effective teaching and learning at schools during the current conditions.

The decision of the national executive to call for the school to close for the period was, among others, informed by the peak, the winter season, which was also impacting the surge, the union said.

READ MORE | Schools should close until Covid-19 peak passes, SADTU resolves

As Gauteng becomes the first province to record 100 000 cases, Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku says he is comforted by the fact that most cases in the province have not been severe.

"We are concerned about the rapidness, how we actually got there, but we also take comfort in the fact that the majority of the confirmed cases, they do not have severe symptoms or require them to be in hospital facilities," Masuku told News24 on Monday, ahead of confirmation that the province had breached the 100 000-case mark.

But Masuku is taking solace in the "fact that the province is seeing a climb in recoveries".

"We are also seeing a steady climb in terms of recoveries so we also take solace in that. We are working towards a point of what we have planned in terms of field hospitals and tents are in place and are active as we speak to de-congest the system," he explained.

READ MORE | Covid-19: We take comfort that most cases aren't severe - Gauteng Health MEC

Gauteng has been divided into four medical clusters led by central hospitals attached to medical schools to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The clusters are: Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital, Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

Health MEC Bandile Masuku accompanied Health Minister Zweli Mkhize at the Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Garankuwa on Tuesday to inspect its state of readiness.

Masuku also said they were currently building a site that would accommodate 300 beds at the hospital for Covid-19 patients.

He said the site should be ready by mid-August to cater for the surge.

READ MORE | Gauteng divided into four medical clusters to curb the spread of Covid-19

The Eastern Cape province is investing in advanced hospital equipment and has entered into alliances with powerful organisations to bolster its defence against the coming Covid-19 storm.

The Solidarity Fund has pumped in R75m extra to the Eastern Cape for the purchase of crucial equipment for patients requiring critical care, oxygen and ventilation.

The Development Bank of Southern Africa is paying for crucial equipment including beds and ventilators while the US Embassy has donated and installed 10 ventilators at two hospitals, with an additional 40 ventilators to be delivered next week.

The announcement was made by Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane in a statement on Tuesday.

READ MORE | Ailing Eastern Cape turns to powerful organisations to bolster fight against Covid-19

Two medical experts have expressed concern following government's renewed ban on alcohol sales and regulations on taxi capacity.

The experts, who also serve on the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), said government need to come up with a more comprehensive plan on how to manage the increase in Covid-19 infections.

This follows President Cyril Ramaphosa's address to the nation on Sunday night in which he announced taxis driving short distances could do so at 100% capacity provided windows were open, a nationwide sales ban on alcohol as well as a curfew.

Speaking to News24, Dr Angelique Coetzee, the president of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) and member of the MAC, said the ban on alcohol would impact workers' livelihoods and a better plan needed to be created.

READ MORE | Alcohol ban and taxi capacity: Govt is going about it wrong, say experts


Cases update:

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

Late on Tuesday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 13.177 million, while deaths were more than 574 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 3.39 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 136 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Doctors in France have reported what they say is the first confirmed case of an unborn child contracting the coronavirus from their mother while still in the womb.

The case was the subject of a paper titled "Transplacental transmission of SARS-CoV-2 infection," which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications on Tuesday. Details of the paper were first reported by The Guardian.

Until now, there has been some limited evidence suggesting that an unborn child could catch the coronavirus from inside the womb, but the paper's authors, from the Antoine Be´cle`re hospital in Paris, confirmed "transplacental transmission of SARS-CoV-2" was possible.

They said that a 23-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital with a fever and cough on March 24 when she was more than 35 weeks pregnant with a boy.

READ MORE | Doctors in France have found the world's first recorded case of an unborn child contracting Covid-19


As the world scrambles to find a vaccine for the contagious Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus, any headline proclaiming progress will make us feel more positive in a time of uncertainty.

On 13 July 2020, it was reported that Russia became the first country to complete clinical trials of a Covid-19 vaccine candidate after Sechenov University announced that it had "concluded the study".

According to the Sechenov University Center For Clinical Research on Medications chief researcher Elena Smolyarchuk, human trials were now “completed” after 20 patients volunteered and were quarantined for 28 days.

Despite numerous reports about completed clinical trials, it wasn’t specified that only phase I of the clinical trials had been completed. This means that the safety and tolerability of the vaccine was tested on a small group of volunteers – in the case of this vaccine candidate, only 20 patients.

On a positive note, however, none of the volunteers experienced negative side-effects and were ready to be released from hospital, where they had been quarantined.

READ MORE | Covid-19 vaccine and Russia: Only first part of trial completed, and still a long way to go

As more scientists are presenting evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne and tends to spread, especially in indoor areas, masks are becoming a mandatory protective measure on airplanes, trains and in shared office areas.

But which masks perform the best? As the pandemic progresses, we're seeing several designs of non-medical masks. But, before you waste your money on useless masks, researchers have determined which ones are the most effective.

According to a press release, a recent study on masks by the University of Arizona was published in the Journal of Hospital Infection. This research assessed the shielding ability of several types of non-medical mask materials after 30 seconds, and then after 20 minutes of exposure in an area with high contamination risk.

The study found that infection risks were reduced by 24–94% up to 44–99%, depending on the type of mask and the length of exposure. The shorter the exposure, the lower the risk.

READ MORE | Here are the best and worst materials for face masks

Remdesivir has recently made headlines – it was approved as one of the first official treatments for Covid-19, which was followed by news that the United States had bought up the world’s entire supply.

Recent research by the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) suggested that remdesivir can reduce the Covid-19 mortality rate by as much as 30% and slash the time a patient needs in ICU, which can help overburdened healthcare systems.

This peer-reviewed study was published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and estimated that it could increase the number of Covid-19 patients treated in South Africa by more than 50%, which could save as many as 6 862 lives a month as our cases peak, according to a news release.

This equates to a total of almost 13 647 avoidable South African deaths by December 2020.

READ MORE | Remdesivir can save lives and shorten time in ICU, particularly in SA, researchers say

While everyone is at risk of getting Covid-19 if exposed to the virus, those over the age of 65; people with comorbidities such as hypertension and diabetes; as well as people who are immune compromised are more vulnerable to severe illness.

In spite of this risk, older adults do not appear to be complying with most public health preventative measures. This is according to survey results from 27 countries, carried out by Jean-François Daoust of the University of Edinburgh, UK. The results were published in the journal PLOS ONE earlier this month.

Since the early stages of the pandemic, public health agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stressed the increased risk among certain groups of being hospitalised; needing intensive care or ventilation; or even dying.

According to the WHO: “Older people, and people of all ages with pre-existing medical conditions (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, or cancer) appear to develop serious illness more than others.”

The recent survey, which is the first in-depth study of the attitudes of elderly people and their compliance with Covid-19 preventative measures, includes responses from 72 417 people of all ages.

READ MORE | Despite risks, many elderly people not complying with Covid-19 preventative measures

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