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Infectious Diseases

29 August 2020

Coronavirus morning update: 'The ANC or SA?', president asked, and R350 grant system taking strain

Corruption, particularly regarding Covid-19 procurement continues to be a hot topic, and the R350 coronavirus grant system is under pressure.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 620 132.

According to the latest update, 13 743 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 533 935 recoveries.

So far, a total of more than 3.63 million tests have been conducted, with 14 329 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

With a showdown on corruption looming in the ANC, opposition MPs forced President Cyril Ramaphosa to walk a political tightrope.

Corruption, particularly regarding Covid-19 procurement, was the overarching theme of Thursday's question session in the National Assembly, with three of the six principal questions on this topic.

The supplementary question, an enquiry about government debt, also mostly dealt with corruption.

This comes as the ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting is due to grapple with the question of how to deal with the looters in its ranks.

Ramaphosa, in a letter to his comrades, said the ANC is corruption-accused number one. His loyalists want to clean up the party, but pushback is also expected from another grouping, who will demand that Ramaphosa release the list of funders for his campaign to become the party's president in 2017.

This was the political minefield Ramaphosa had to traverse, while opposition MPs on several occasions gave him a choice: The ANC or South Africa?

The public outrage at recently revealed widespread Covid-corruption didn't go unnoticed at the Union Buildings.

READ MORE | The ANC or South Africa? Opposition MPs ask Ramaphosa in Parliament

The support system behind South Africa's special Covid-19 grant for unemployed people who receive no other state help has a backlog of some 300,000 emails, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) says.

Meanwhile it continues to receive around 1 000 new emails per day – on top of up to 40 000 attempted phone calls – according to information it released to companies it hopes can help.

That avalanche is dealt with by a call centre with a staff count of 26, of which 14 are considered "frontline" staff who can deal with grant issues.

Under normal circumstances that call centre would deal with around 1 500 calls per day, Sassa says.

But the new R350-per month grant “has increased the pressure on the call centre as the number of calls and e-mail enquiries have increased exponentially. The current call centre is unable to cope with this increase which results in frustration for citizens, but is also causing serious reputational risk to Sassa and the Ministry of Social Development."

READ MORE | The R350 coronavirus grant system has a pile of unanswered emails 300 000 deep – on top of 40 000 calls per day

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has announced the resumption of certain services during Level 2 of the lockdown, as well as the extension of the expiry date for certain temporary IDs.

He also said that while South Africa's borders had been closed since the lockdown came into effect, over 839 000 people who were exempt from the closures, had been allowed to cross the border.

According to Motsoaledi, between 27 March and 26 August, a total of 839 004 people were assisted by immigration officials to cross the border under permissible conditions.

"Most of these people were foreign nationals who were returning to their countries and South Africans who were returning home, to South Africa," Motsoaledi said.

READ MORE | Level 2: Some Home Affairs services reopen, more than 800 000 cross border since March

A South African study is underway to assess how many people in individual rural and urban households in the country are becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease.

To date, there is little information about the relative rate of transmission of the virus between rural and urban areas.

The study will focus on transmission of the virus via asymptomatic (producing or showing no symptoms) people, and how the virus interacts with other pathogens.

Named the PHIRST-C study, it will be led by Professor Cheryl Cohen, Professor of Epidemiology of the Wits School of Public Health and Head of the Centre for Respiratory Disease and Meningitis (CRDM) at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) in South Africa.

“The study will help answer vital questions about how common asymptomatic infection is and how people who are infected with SARS-CoV-2 – but who remain asymptomatic – transmit the virus compared to those who do have symptoms,” said Cohen in a news release.

READ MORE | SA scientists to explore asymptomatic spread of the Covid-19 virus in the country

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 Saturday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 24.57 million, while deaths were almost 834 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 5.91 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 182 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

French Prime Minister Jean Castex encouraged local authorities to impose new restrictions to address the net increase coronavirus cases in France, including a compulsory mask mandate for all Parisians.

The virus is circulating in nearly 20% of France's regions, with the number of "red zones" rising from two to 21, BBC News reported. Being categorized as a red zone allows local authorities to impose additional restrictions if necessary.

All pedestrians in the city and its inner ring of suburbs will be required to wear face-coverings when in public areas. The mask mandate has been extended to all bicyclists and people on motorcycles and scooters as well.

"The deterioration of the health situation…has led the prefect to take this strong measure in interest of the population," Paris police prefecture said in a statement.

The mandatory mask requirement for Paris, one of the 21 red zones, follows one for Marseilles, France's third-largest city. Marseilles, which has been categorized as a red zone for several days, also imposed a curfew for all bars and restaurants Wednesday evening to limit the spread of the virus.

READ MORE | Paris is getting a mandatory mask requirement following an 'undeniable resurgence' of Covid-19 cases

LATEST RESEARCH

One of the things that researchers are observing in Covid-19 is that it seems to affect men more severely than women. There are several theories, including research suggesting that oestrogen may protect women against Covid-19.

A team of researchers recently analysed factors like viral loads, antibodies and immune response in both sexes to find clues as to why men seem to be more susceptible to Covid-19.

The team investigated SARS-CoV-2 in Covid-19 positive patients in the Yale-New Haven Hospital between 18 March and 9 May 2020.

They made use of several samples including blood, nasal swabs, saliva, urine and stool in order to isolate the virus and determine the viral load, as well as antibodies.

The team also performed two sets of data analysis to determine if there were any immune differences between the sexes. Their results, published in the journal Nature, reveal that the men and women showed different immune responses, affecting Covid-19 outcomes.

READ MORE | Why does Covid-19 hit men harder than women? The immune system reveals some clues

In an effort to understand more about the constantly evolving SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19, researchers have been testing sewage for months.

A new global study – led by researchers from the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) – warns that waste water containing coronaviruses may be a serious threat.

"There is ample reason to be concerned about how long coronaviruses survive in waste water and how it impacts natural water sources," said lead author Dr Edo Bar-Zeev of the BGU Zuckerberg Institute.

The paper was published in Nature Sustainability, and the research was carried out by an international team of 35 researchers. They evaluated recent studies on coronaviruses in waste water, as well as previous airborne infectious diseases, including SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

"Can waste water contain enough coronaviruses to infect people? The simple truth is that we do not know enough and that needs to be rectified as soon as possible," Bar-Zeev said.

The team's analysis of the potential threat of the virus in waste water has led them to conclude that sewage leaking into natural watercourses might lead to infection via airborne spray, and that treated waste water flowing into recreational water facilities, such as rivers and lakes, could also become a source of contagion.

READ MORE | Can you catch the new coronavirus from sewage?

The ever-evolving nature of the Covid-19 pandemic has opened a Pandora's box of anxiety for new mothers over whether they are capable of transmitting the new coronavirus to their infants through breastfeeding.

After analysing 64 samples of breast milk infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and University of California Los Angeles found that transmission is unlikely to happen.

The study was published in the online edition of JAMA.

Although there have been no documented cases to date of Covid-19 transmission from breast milk, researchers have been investigating the potential for this to happen.

For this specific study, the researchers examined 64 samples of breast milk from 18 women across the US infected with SARS-CoV-2. The samples were collected by the Mommy's Milk Human Milk Research Biorepository, an initiative involved in clinical research into human milk.

READ MORE | Breastfeeding unlikely to pass Covid-19 to babies, researchers say

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