Infectious Diseases

22 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Samples missing after hijacking, and cigarette market 'in disarray'

Bio-hazard warning after a truck carrying Covid-19 samples was hijacked in Port Elizabeth; and cigarette prices continue to spike on the black market.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 381 798.

According to the latest update, 5 368 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 208 144 recoveries.

So far, more than 2.53 million tests have been conducted, with 31 275 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

A courier truck carrying Covid-19 specimens was hijacked in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape on Monday - and the samples are missing.

The National Health Laboratory Services has warned the robbers and the public not to touch the samples, saying they may be highly infectious.

NHLS manager in the province Tabita Makula said people who come across the specimens "must urgently call our Port Elizabeth NHLS office on 041 395 6158".

Makula said the pathology services institute was still counting the number of the stolen specimen in order to establish how many people they would need to contact for retesting.

The unknown number of bio-hazard samples were contained in 40-litre cooler boxes with ice tubes, said Makula.

"The cooler boxes had ice packs for the purposes of keeping the samples in cool temperatures. We can confirm that the truck was commissioned by us to collect samples in our facilities in the area."

READ MORE | Bio-hazard warning after truck carrying Covid-19 samples hijacked in Port Elizabeth

The ongoing cigarette ban has resulted in prices continuing to spike on the black market, while any benefits of the ban were mostly achieved under lockdown alert level 5, according to a recent study.

Moreover, the study found, brands associated with the Fair Trade Tobacco Association – which went to court to have the tobacco overturned – are proving big sellers under the ban.

Research conducted by the Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products (REEP), an independent research unit based at the University of Cape Town, found that the average price of cigarettes has increased by nearly 250% compared to pre-lockdown levels.

This is based on a second online survey of some 23 000 respondents the team conducted between 4 and 19 June 2020, where they found that the average price per cigarette was R5.69 or R114 per pack of 20.

This is compared to a 90% increase in cigarette prices noted in an earlier survey in May by the same team.

READ MORE | Cigarette market 'in disarray', price war looms, and more people share smokes - study

The Educators' Union of South Africa (EUSA) has threatened to shut down schools "by force" to protect pupils and teachers from contracting the Covid-19 virus.

The union, which has 27 000 members, claimed that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was putting lives at risk.

Teachers' unions have been calling for her to close schools to curb the spread of the virus and come up with alternative models of teaching.

Motshekga has been consulting with various stakeholders to find a way forward, but it is not yet clear when an announcement will be made on the outcome of these discussions.

READ MORE | Union threatens to shut down schools: 'A dead teacher cannot teach and a dead learner cannot learn'

The World Health Organisation (WHO) voiced alarm on Monday at the spread of Covid-19 in Africa, warning that South Africa's surging numbers could be a "precursor" for outbreaks across the continent.

"I am very concerned right now that we are beginning to see an acceleration of disease in Africa," WHO's emergencies chief told a virtual press conference.

Until recently, Africa had remained relatively unscathed by the pandemic compared to the surging numbers seen in other parts of the world.

With more than 15 000 deaths and close to 725 000 cases, the continent remains the world's second-least affected after Oceania.

But the situation has become increasingly worrying, particularly in South Africa.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Situation in SA 'a warning' for the rest of the continent - WHO

Discovery has committed to moving its medical scheme members to other hospitals, across the country, if ICUs run out of beds amid the current coronavirus crisis.

South Africa now has more than 370 000 Covid-19 cases – which puts it among the top-five most affected countries in the world.

Government hospitals may run out of beds before the end of July, which would mean more state-sector patients in private hospitals. Private hospitals have agreed with government to treat Covid-19 patients at set prices.

Dr Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health, says that if ICUs are nearing capacity, the company will move members to different hospitals

READ MORE | Discovery will move patients to different cities if ICU beds run out


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 14.77 million, while deaths were more than 611 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 3.85 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 141 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

German scientists are throwing a concert - using fog machines, fluorescent hand sanitiser, and contact tracer devices - to work out if it's possible to hold large indoor events during the pandemic without spreading the coronavirus.

Scientists from the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) are calling for 4 000 people to head to an indoor stadium in Leipzig to see German pop singer Tim Bendzko on August 22, as part of a R18.2 million project called Restart-19.

MLU head of clinical infectious diseases, Stefan Mortiz, who is coordinating the experiment, told The Guardian: "We are trying to find out if there could be a middle way between the old and the new normal that would allow organisers to fit enough people into a concert venue to not make a loss."

On MLU's website, it states banning crowds to lower the risk of the coronavirus spreading has become "an existential threat for many athletes and artists, who depend on their audience for income," according to Deutsche Welle.

READ MORE | German scientists are hosting a concert for 4 000 people to study how Covid-19 spreads in big groups


AstraZeneca's experimental Covid-19 vaccine was safe and produced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials in healthy volunteers, according to a study published in a top journal on Monday.

The vaccine, called AZD1222, and being developed by global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and scientists at Britain's University of Oxford, did not show any serious side-effects and produced sufficient antibody and T-cell immune responses, according to trial results published in The Lancet medical journal.

But what lies ahead before this vaccine can be mass-produced and distributed?

The researchers performed a phase 1/2 single-blind randomised controlled trial in five trial sites around the UK.

The vaccine was developed from a chimpanzee adenovirus-vectored vaccine, which was combined with a spike protein from SARS-Cov-2 – this means that the adenovirus, a milder virus that causes nothing more serious than a common cold, was "fed" with genetic instructions to help the trick the body in creating antibodies against SARS-Cov-2, the coronavirus that is currently causing Covid-19.

READ MORE | What the latest positive news on a leading Covid-19 vaccine candidate means

In probably the biggest study of its kind, more than 17 million patients' data across England were analysed for risk factors contributing to Covid-19-related deaths.

Commissioned by England's National Health Service (NHS), OpenSAFELY is a health analytics platform that uses anonymised data of about 40% of all patients in the country to better understand the impact of the coronavirus.

In the study published in Nature, they linked this data to 10 962 coronavirus deaths to understand what makes people more likely to die from the disease. The last data was from 6 May 2020, which means the numbers might look different today.

The overall risk of death 90 days after the study's start was less than 0.01% in those aged between 18 and 39 years, rising to 0.67% and 0.44% in men and women respectively aged 80 years and older.

In fact, those above 80 had a twentyfold increased risk of dying from Covid-19 compared to people in their 50s.

READ MORE | Covid-19 deaths: Surprise findings on smoking and other insights from study of 17m patients

While rashes on the skin have long been tied to Covid-19, doctors in Spain report that rashes on the inside of the mouth are also occurring in some cases.

The rashes are clinically known as enanthem, and it's not surprising that they are showing up with Covid-19, said a US dermatologist unconnected to the new study.

"An enanthem is a rash [small spots] on the mucous membranes," explained Dr Michele Green, who practices at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "It is very common in patients with viral infections like chickenpox and hand, foot and mouth disease. It is characteristic of many viral rashes to affect mucous membranes."

The new Spanish study was published on 15 July in JAMA Dermatology. Researchers led by Dr Juan Jimenez-Cauhe, of University Hospital Ramon y Cajal in Madrid, examined 21 patients diagnosed in early April with Covid-19 and associated skin rashes.

READ MORE | Another Covid-19 symptom joins the list: Mouth rash

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