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Infectious Diseases

08 June 2020

Coronavirus morning update: 'Sleepless nights' overs schools - but 95% now ready to reopen

Your latest coronavirus news: The green light has been given for grades 7 and 12 to return to school on 8 June, with 95% of schools ready to reopen after a "momentous effort".

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 48 285.

According to the latest update, 998 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 24 364 recoveries.

So far, 920 064 tests have been conducted, with 28 395 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has admitted to having "sleepless nights" about when to reopen South Africa's schools, which has been confirmed for Monday for 95% of schools in the country.

She made this admission on Sunday in a statement to the nation.

Thanking a range of national and provincial departments, communities, private sector and the president, Motshekga said in a statement: "We must also single out our parents, teachers and learners, who had to patiently endure the ill-effects of the abnormal 2020 school calendar year with us.

"We can assure you that your anxieties are ours too; we too have spent the sleepless nights you spent."

"We have done and will continue to do our level best to ensure that our schools are safe.

"All of us are therefore, called to do whatever we are expected to do, to ensure that our school communities and spaces do not become the new hotspots for the Covid-19 pandemic," she added.

Next is the "phased reopening" of public and independent schools, with a cluster of grades returning on 6 July; and the last cluster back on 3 August.

READ MORE | Motshekga says schools ready to reopen: Here is the breakdown by province

The country's basic education system has put in a momentous effort - and is now ready to open.

This was announced on Sunday by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga - giving the green light for grades 7 and 12 to return to school on Monday.

The reopening of schools comes a week after the minister postponed it, saying too many schools were not ready.

Now a week later, 95% of schools were ready to reopen, Motshekga said.

On Sunday 30 May, she added in her briefing, "the Council of Education Ministers determined that the sector was at a different level of readiness; and required more time to mop up its state of readiness for the resumption of schooling in order to comply with the health, safety and social-distancing measures and requirements on the coronavirus".

In the following seven days, Motshekga said the country's nine education departments, communities, the private sector and other government departments all "stepped up" - and "dramatically improved the national picture".

READ MORE | 95% of schools ready to reopen after 'drastically improved' mop-up week - Motshekga

South African health authorities have added anywhere between zero and 207 new critical care beds to existing public healthcare capacity during the national lockdown, but the true number remains unclear.

The department said this week that 2 309 critical care beds allocated to Covid-19 patients nationally, and more than 13 000 field hospital beds were added to the total capacity during the lockdown.

It remains unclear whether these field hospital beds will be equipped to handle patients in need of critical care.

"Critical care" includes high care and ICU beds, according to the department's own definition.

READ MORE | EXCLUSIVE: Just 207 critical care beds and 350 ventilators added to public hospitals during lockdown

Plans to deploy national ministers to the Western Cape to assist in the fight against Covid-19 are under way, according to a report in the Sunday Times.

The publication reported that the likes of Police Minister Bheki Cele, Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, and Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy will be among those deployed to the province.

Their duties are still unclear, however, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu told Sunday Times that ministers would be sent to Covid-19 hotspots – a decision which the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) made.

Mthembu said the same would be done for hotspots in other provinces.

READ MORE | National ministers to be deployed to Western Cape as Covid-19 peak approaches - report

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 Sunday night, positive cases worldwide were 6.96 million, while deaths were more than 401 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - close to 1.93 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 110 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Brazil deleted months of data from its official Covid-19 tracker, prompting president Jair Bolsonaro to be accused of censorship.

On Friday, the health ministry's "Coronavirus Panel" was taken offline, according to Brazil's G1 Globo. By Saturday, it was back online, but with a fraction of the data.

The previous version of the website showed the cumulative national tally of deaths and infections, and granular data for each of Brazil's 27 states and municipalities.

The new version showed only new deaths and cases recorded over the last 24 hours at state level, with no national tally.

Bolsonaro wrote on his personal Facebook page that the old website used data that was "not representative" and that the new version will "allow for more accurate data on the situation."

"The disclosure of 24-hour data lets you monitor the reality of the country right now, and define appropriate strategies to help the population," he said.

READ MORE | Brazil hides coronavirus death data, Bolsonaro accused of censorship

LATEST RESEARCH

As the world races towards a vaccine for the potentially deadly Covid-19 virus, one key substance is set to become highly sought after.

The unique blue blood of the horseshoe crab is used in a vital process that checks whether or not intravenous drugs – like vaccines – have any antibacterial contaminants, to ensure they're safe for humans.

And as pharmaceutical companies rush to test vaccines for the deadly coronavirus, demand for its blood is set to surge, according to the New York Times.

It has been used in the pharmacological industry for almost 50 years. According to a study of the ancient creature, its blood contains amebocytes - a mobile cell that defends against pathogens and is highly susceptible to endotoxins. These form part of bacteria that could lead to toxic shock or cause severe fever.

The extract from the blood is called limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL), and when added to medicine, it will thicken solutions contaminated with bacteria. Otherwise, the medicine continues its normal flow through the process.

But what about the crabs? The harvesting practices and use of their blood have been hotly contested in the industry by conservationists, especially as an alternative test was developed 15 years ago called recombinant Factor C (rFC).

READ MORE | This animal’s blue blood is going to be in high demand to test coronavirus vaccines

An over-the-counter heartburn remedy is showing some potential as a symptom reliever for Covid-19, a small study has found.

Famotidine, sold under the brand name Pepcid, appeared to improve symptoms in a group of 10 patients diagnosed with Covid-19, researchers reported online on 4 June in the journal Gut.

The patients' self-reported symptoms began to feel better within a day or two of taking famotidine, the study authors said.

"A clinical trial is now needed to formally test if famotidine works against Covid-19," said lead researcher Dr Tobias Janowitz, a medical oncologist and cancer researcher with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

But don't rush out to stock up on Pepcid just yet, warned Dr Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

"This is a very small study that was observational in nature," Adalja said. "It is very hard to draw any conclusions from it."

A clinical trial in which Pepcid's effectiveness is compared against a placebo is essential to prove that the medication works, since it is being used in mild to moderate cases of Covid-19, Adalja said.

READ MORE | Could a heartburn medication ease Covid-19 symptoms?

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