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Infectious Diseases

01 May 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Schools proposal, no Nando's yet, and new rule on prescriptions

Your latest coronavirus news: A proposal on the re-opening of schools; which of your favourite fast-food restaurants will be open for delivery - but no Nando's yet; and a new regulation on 6-month prescriptions.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 5 647.

According to the latest update, no new deaths were recorded. The total of number of deaths so far is 103.

So far, 207 530 tests have been conducted, with more than 10 400 new tests.

READ MORE |All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The Department of Basic Education may only be able to start phasing in Grade 7 and 12 pupils from 1 June, according to Minister Angie Motshekga. 

Motshekga and her higher education counterpart, Blade Nzimande, briefed the nation on Thursday, outlining the plans to ensure teaching and learning resume as the country fights the coronavirus pandemic.

But the return to school for Grades 7 and 12 from June depends on the department's plans to ensure that schools are safe and Covid-19 compliant.

The department plans to have personal protective equipment (PPE) delivered to all schools in the country.

It will have schools deep cleaned, and also make sure that all necessary support is provided for teachers, non-teaching staff and pupils. 

Motshekga said parents had been concerned that pupils would be returning to schools from May, but that it would not be the case.  

She said the department had decided to postpone the May/June National Senior Certificate rewrite examinations and it would now merge with the November/December exams.

READ MORE | Plan to phase in pupils from June only a proposal for now - Motshekga

The Department of Higher Education and Training has decided not to resume campus-based activity when Level 4 of the lockdown commences on Friday.

"We have decided not to resume with campus-based academic activity throughout the sector, including all universities and TVET (technical vocational education and training) colleges, both public and private, during the Level 4 lockdown period," Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said at a briefing on Thursday afternoon.

President Cyril Ramaphosa introduced a risk-adjusted strategy, composed of five levels of lockdown, in order to allow for the reopening of the economy while at the same time managing the spread of Covid-19 in the country.

As a result, South Africa will be shifting from Level 5 to Level 4 on Friday, which will see a slight easing of the lockdown restrictions.

READ MORE | Level 4 lockdown: Students won't return to campus, risk is too great - Blade Nzimande

A number of South Africa's beloved fast-food restaurants, including Chicken Licken, Debonairs and Steers, are open again  for fast food deliveries from 1 May.

However, Nando’s will remain closed for now.

According to new regulations, gazetted on Wednesday, the sale of hot, prepared food will be permitted for delivery only. Customers cannot visit restaurants to get the takeaways. Restaurants may open for food delivery services only, between 09:00 to 19:00. 

The major fast-food outlets and restaurants confirmed to open from Friday include: 

Chicken Licken (limited number of stores)Wimpy KFC (only from Saturday, at a limited number of stores)Debonairs Pizza SteersAndiccio24 PizzaHut Fishaways Roman's PizzaMcDonald's (only from Saturday, limited number of stores) Spur (limited number of franchise stores) Burger King (limited number of stores)

READ MORE | These fast-food chains are open from 1 May

People with expiring prescriptions, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, are set for some relief.

In what appears to be a bid to further restrict movement and lessen the burden on the healthcare system, if you have an expiring six-month prescription, under certain circumstances, you will not have to visit the doctor for a while longer.

In an amendment to the Medicines and Related Substances Act, schedule 2, 3 and 4 drugs will be subject to extensions by dispensing pharmacists for a further six months.

The act previously limited the dispensing of the scheduled, prescribed drugs to six months whereafter a new prescription from the prescribing doctor would be required.

But the amendment to the act, section 22A(6)(f), allows for schedule 2, 3 and 4 drugs to be excluded from that requirement.

READ MORE | Your 6-month prescription expiring? Your pharmacist may extend it, new regulations state

On the topic of whether South Africa’s focus on resources against the Covid-19 fight is coming at the cost of tackling other diseases in the country, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said it is a matter the health sector battles with every day, but they are striving to keep a balance.

Speaking at the WHO Media Briefing on Covid-19 in Africa on Thursday, Mkhize explained that the reality is that the health sector has to mount an immediate response to the Covid-19 challenge, but at the same time, there is an understanding that unless the country’s health services are able to balance this in the management of other comorbidities, it may bring about a new challenge.

“We grapple with that matter every day. A huge number of our people who have diabetes, hypertension, chest infections, tuberculosis (TB), HIV and AIDS, and cancers – all of these need to be managed as well, while we are dealing with this [Covid-19 crisis].

“That is the reason there has been an additional allocation of resources – to actually help the department get additional human resources and additional structures, in terms of hospital beds and field hospitals, so that we don’t actually have the Covid-19 patients displacing other patients who need it,” Mkhize said.

Chronic conditions are particularly in the spotlight at the moment, as many Covid-19-related deaths in the country have seen victims also suffering from underlying chronic illnesses.

READ MORE | Mkhize: Health sector must manage chronic patients amid Covid-19 - or it may bring a new challenge

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 Friday morning, positive cases worldwide were close to 3.25 million, while deaths were almost 233 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1 067 000, as well as the most deaths - close to 63 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

According to a new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations' sexual and reproductive health agency, the coronavirus will have a devastating impact on women worldwide.

As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages nations across the globe, health systems continue to be overloaded - facilities remain closed down or continue to limit the services they offer, including services to women and girls.

The UNFPA report suggests Covid-19 is already having a profound impact on women across the globe, with many women choosing to skip crucial medical checkups through fear of contracting the virus.

However, the outcomes for women and their respective communities don't stop there.

Speaking with Business Insider, UNFPA's deputy executive director, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov said: "Globally, roughly 70% of the health workforce is comprised of women. At the moment, there's more risk of women being exposed [to the coronavirus] as a frontline worker."

"These issues aren't exclusive to the developing world. Inequality is less pronounced in the developed world but it's still there. It's a catastrophe," said Alakbarov. "Women are the first to lose their jobs during these crises, they're the first to stand up for the family, they take most of the brunt economically. But this report is a catastrophe within a catastrophe."

READ MORE | Covid-19 crisis will see 7 million unplanned pregnancies and 31 million GBV cases, says UN

Britain is "past the peak" of its coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday, despite recording another 674 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 26 711.

The country is now the third-most affected in the world behind the United States and Italy on cumulative deaths, after changing its reporting to include community as well as hospital deaths on Wednesday.

But Johnson, making his first appearance at a daily government briefing since his own battle with Covid-19, said there were reasons for optimism.

"For the first time, we are past the peak of this disease... and we are on the downward slope," he told reporters.

READ MORE | UK 'past peak' of coronavirus outbreak: PM Johnson

Criminal gangs are using fast-food couriers to deliver recreational drugs to people confined at home because of coronavirus lockdowns, policing agency Interpol said on Thursday.

Cocaine, marijuana, ketamine and ecstasy are among the drugs being moved in pizza boxes or other takeaway containers in countries including Ireland, Malaysia, Spain and Britain, Interpol said in a statement.

The agency issued a "purple notice" to warn its 194 member agencies of "this new modus operandi" involving couriers using bikes, motorcycles or cars.

With drug buyers and their dealers under lockdown along with the rest of society in many countries, some drivers are using this time to make a quick buck, while in some cases dealers simply posed as couriers.

READ MORE | Two pizzas and a spliff please: Interpol warns of lockdown drug deliveries

LATEST RESEARCH

As the Covid-19 pandemic escalates, many governments worldwide are advocating for the mandatory use of face masks in public.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on 23 April, he indicated that the use of face masks in public – during all lockdown levels – would be mandatory.

And if you can't find one, you can certainly make one, but be sure to take the advice of scientists in a recent study.

Six researchers from the Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago recently conducted a study and found that two simple but important features can help to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2.

READ MORE | If you’re making a DIY face mask, these are the best materials to use according to science

Experts are scrambling to buy time in the Covid-19 vaccine race by testing the potential of existing drugs like chloroquine and its milder cousin hydroxychloroquine. These drugs have been featuring in the news, especially since their optimistic endorsement by President Donald Trump.  

While optimism is what we are looking for as the pandemic sweeps the globe, false hope based on one medication might keep people from the next best thing, an article in Nature suggests.

Not only will false and premature claims of chloroquine as an effective treatment against Covid-19 cause a surge in demand, depleting stock for those who truly need the medication for its designed purpose, but it may also keep people from conducting more promising clinical trials and considering other treatments.

It’s basically a case of placing all your eggs in one basket. Doctors who endorse clinical trials are saying that patients tend to ignore other trials and treatments, stated neurologist Sergio Iván Valdés-Ferrer from the Salvador Zubirán National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition in Mexico City.

READ MORE | Covid-19: The problems caused by the chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine hype

New research adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests men are far more vulnerable to severe Covid-19 than women are.

Although both genders fall ill in the same numbers, men are 2.5 times more likely to get severe disease and die, the study from China showed.

The finding comes as scientists in New York and California are starting to test a novel hypothesis that sex hormones might play a part in disease severity.

Last week, doctors on Long Island started treating Covid-19 patients with oestrogen to boost their immune systems, The New York Times reported. And beginning next week, physicians in Los Angeles will start treating male patients with progesterone, a hormone that is predominantly found in women. Progesterone has anti-inflammatory properties and might prevent the immune system from overreacting, the researchers explained.

READ MORE | Covid-19 continues to strike men harder than women

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.

READ MORE: Coronavirus 101 

Image credit: Getty Images