Infectious Diseases

17 June 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Warning from Mkhize, latest on testing and treatment

Health minister warns of spike in Covid-19 deaths and infections in coming days; a top scientist's views on testing; and a drug shows promise in treating the coronavirus.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 76 334.

According to the latest update, 1 625 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 42 063 recoveries.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu have launched a new multi-sectoral ministerial advisory committee (MAC) on social behavioural change, in an effort to expand the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

During a visual briefing on Tuesday, Mkhize said the committee would be chaired by Malusi Mpumlwana of the South African Council of Churches.

The MAC team comes from diversity of various stakeholders which represents civil society organisations, who are non-governmental organisation, youth organisations, church leaders, traditional leaders among others.

"Behavioural change needs constant reinforcement and affirmation.

"It needs the entire buy-in of individuals, communities, societies, cultures and various social groupings," Mkhize said.

Mkhize has also added that the virus had "disrupted our social lives and threatens to sink economies. It has forced humanity to choose between life or external trappings".

He said, in coming days, the country would see a rise in infections, more people would be hospitalised, and many would lose their lives.

Mkhize said, to deal with the virus, it was no longer about what government says, but that it was about each individual. He also said citizens needed to build a culture of ensuring that they wear masks, wash hands and maintain physical distance.

READ MORE | Mkhize warns of spike in Covid-19 deaths and infections in coming days

Testing of people previously diagnosed for Covid-19 to ensure they are no longer infectious before returning to work is "nonsense and must stop", a top professor says.

Professor Wolfgang Preiser, the head of division of medical virology at the Department of Pathology at the University of Stellenbosch, said from now on, people who did not meet a strict criteria for targeted testing should not be tested.

Preiser is also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) advising the government on Covid-19.

He said he could not divulge details of the MAC meetings, but added he could comment on issues that were public knowledge.

READ MORE | Covid-19: Re-testing previously diagnosed people before returning to work is 'nonsense' - scientist

President Cyril Ramaphosa says there has to be life beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ramaphosa was addressing a virtual Youth Day discussion on Tuesday focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, and he encouraged young people to take the lead in turning around the economy.

"We are looking forward to innovation and creativity and new ideas from young people. We want young people who are going to speak out and step forward. Covid-19 is pregnant with opportunities. So, I am throwing a challenge to young people to begin to see post-Covid-19. We need to set up different ways of running our economy, the ownership of the economy and managing our economy," he said.

This year marks 44 years since the Soweto uprising that claimed the lives of more than 200 people when thousands marched against the use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction.

READ MORE | Youth Day: Ramaphosa tells youth to rebuild economy after Covid-19

EFF leader Julius Malema says President Cyril Ramaphosa will be held personally liable for the loss of lives as a result of the coronavirus because he recklessly reopened the economy.

Speaking in a virtual Youth Day rally, Malema called for the reinstatement of the ban on alcohol saying the protection of life must valued over the desire for profit.

"We have warned Cyril Ramaphosa, who has constituted himself as an ally of white-monopoly capital and the coronavirus, that he will be held personally responsible for the loss of life that is going to happen as a result of his decisions," Malema said.

The EFF commander in chief reitterated their opposition to the opening of schools and of the economy, as Covid-19 cases increase in the country.

READ MORE | Malema: We will hold Ramaphosa responsible for any loss of lives


Cases update:

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

Early on Wednesday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 8.09 million, while deaths were close to 439 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 2.13 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 117 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

A UK clinical trial has concluded that a cheap and widely available steroid can significantly cut deaths among coronavirus patients.

Giving the steroid dexamethasone reduced deaths by one-third for critically ill coronavirus patients who were on ventilators, the researchers found. It cut deaths by 20% among patients with Covid-19 who were getting extra oxygen.

"Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in Covid-19," Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford who was one of the chief investigators for the trial, said in a statement Tuesday. "This is an extremely welcome result."

He told the BBC it was " a major breakthrough."

READ MORE | A cheap steroid dramatically reduced coronavirus deaths in a 'major breakthrough' trial

Beijing left no stone unturned in its attempts to squash a flare-up of the coronavirus late last week, showing it is still taking the virus seriously even as other countries act as if the worst of the pandemic is past.

On Thursday, the first new case in two months was traced to the city's Xinfadi fruit and vegetable market. Six more were identified on Friday, 36 on Saturday, and 36 on Sunday.

In response Beijing reimposed countermeasures that show it is by no means taking an outbreak less seriously the second time around. The city is now in "wartime emergency mode," Chu Junwei, an official in the Fengtai district, said on Saturday.

China's response differs entirely from several countries that are right now choosing to reopen while still recording high numbers of new cases. It is worth noting that China recorded its first case, and imposed its lockdowns, earlier than other countries.

READ MORE | China’s response to a localised outbreak at a market shows it takes Covid-19 seriously


Scientific research is no piece of cake, but when it comes to the involvement of women, the path has even more roadblocks. And according to a new paper published in the BMJ Global Health, a medical journal, women account for just one-third of all authors who published papers related to Covid-19 since the start of the outbreak in January 2020.

The paper also indicates that even fewer senior authors are women, and that lockdown measures may have led to a widening of existing inequalities by limiting women's research time as they take care of parenting, caring duties and homeschooling, among other things.

While gender inequality has major implications for the empowerment of women – with unequal pay being just one of them – the gender bias in the field of Covid-19 research appears to be affecting the availability and interrogation of sex-aggregated data, and consequently, our understanding of the disease, the authors of the paper wrote.

Despite a growing number of women enrolling in universities worldwide, a minority of women graduates go on to partake in research. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) indicates that many women opt out at the highest levels required for a research career. According to the agency, a low 30% of the world's researchers are women.

To investigate the trend in Covid-19 research, the team of seven researchers searched PubMed, a research database, for relevant studies that had been published since January this year. They found that 1 235 senior/lead authors who had published work on Covid-19. Of these, women made up only about a third – 34% to be exact.

READ MORE | Covid-19 science: Who’s behind the research? A shockingly low number of women, a study finds

As the Covid-19 outbreak is entering its sixth month since the discovery of SARS-CoV-2, experts are discovering different ways it affects the body.

At first, scientists and medical experts thought it was a respiratory disease that attacked only the lungs. In April 2020, Health24 published an article unpacking the neurological effects of Covid-19, causing symptoms such as seizures and confusion.

At first, it was still unclear how and why Covid-19 would attack the neurological system, but medical experts agreed that neurological issues should be incorporated into the Covid-19 treatment paradigm, and doctors and first responders should not dismiss Covid-19 when a patient presents with symptoms like a seizure, stroke or sudden confusion.

Now, the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has published a comprehensive review of Covid-19’s effect on the neurological system, classifying Covid-19-related brain damage into three stages, according to a news release.

READ MORE | How Covid-19 can affect your brain in 3 stages

A young Covid-19 survivor received a double-lung transplant to save her life in what's believed to be the first such surgery in the United States, Northwestern Medicine doctors report.

Following her infection, the Hispanic woman in her 20s suffered irreversible lung damage and had to be put on a life-support machine that does the work of the heart and lungs.

"A lung transplant was her only chance for survival," said Dr Ankit Bharat, surgical director of Northwestern Medicine's lung transplant programme.

"We are one of the first health systems to successfully perform a lung transplant on a patient recovering from Covid-19. We want other transplant centres to know that while the transplant procedure in these patients is quite technically challenging, it can be done safely, and it offers the terminally ill Covid-19 patient another option for survival," Bharat said in a Northwestern news release.

Before the patient could be put on the transplant wait-list, she had to test negative for Covid-19.

READ MORE | Woman with severe Covid-19 gets life-saving double-lung transplant

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