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Infectious Diseases

Updated 08 August 2020

Coronavirus morning update: WC govt calls for alcohol ban to be lifted, and no flu season for SA

The Western Cape government warns over jobs in the alcohol sales and wine producing sector; and for the first time in 36 years there will be no flu season in South Africa.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 545 476.

According to the latest update, 9 909 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 394 759 recoveries.

So far, just over 3.1 million tests have been conducted, with more than 33 000 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The Western Cape government wants the alcohol sales and wine producing sector reopened urgently to prevent a jobs bloodbath.

It believed that although the pandemic was not gone, the peak had passed in the province, and with safety precautions followed, alcohol sales could resume safely.

"We fully agree that alcohol related harms are a major problem in our province and country," a statement said on Friday at the conclusion of a meeting of top officials in the provincial government.

"Our provincial data points to this. When the domestic sale of alcohol was suspended during the lockdown, and then again recently, the number of trauma cases dropped immediately.

"But we cannot view this in isolation of the other consequences of a continued 'ban' on the sale of alcohol is causing."

READ MORE | Lockdown: Western Cape wants alcohol ban lifted urgently

British American Tobacco South Africa says that the fight to get the ban on cigarette sales lifted has been "long and extremely frustrating", and it is looking forward to the matter being swiftly resolved by the courts.

South Africa's largest cigarette manufacturer lodged a case to challenge the state's ban on the sales of cigarettes and tobacco product which has been enforced since the start of lockdown in late March. The government says the ban is necessary due to health reasons.

The court challenge was heard over two days in the Western Cape High Court this week. Judgment was reserved.

"We look forward to a swift end to this excessive, unconstitutional and unworkable prohibition, which is impoverishing decent citizens, enriching criminals and destroying jobs and livelihoods," said BATSA's Head of External Affairs, Johnny Moloto.

The company argued in court that the government has not justified the ban in law or science.

According to BATSA the ban has led to R4.5 billion in lost excise taxes and has put 300 000 jobs at risk. Moreover, smokers have been forced to buy unregulated products from the underground market at exorbitant prices, contributing to a rise in illicit trade and entrenching organized crime.

READ MORE | Cigarette ban is 'impoverishing' decent citizens – British American Tobacco SA

Every year, for the past 36 years, the flu season started around mid-July.

This year, most likely due to Covid-19 prevention measures, no influenza has been detected by three sentinel surveillance programmes, which are designed to monitor influenza outbreaks annually.

According to a short article in the July 2020 monthly communique published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, after an initial outbreak of two strains of flu in the Western Cape early this year, only one case of flu has been detected in Gauteng in the week ending 14 June.

The author is Professor Cheryl Cohen, the co-head of the Centre for Respiratory Diseases and Meningitis, one of the country's foremost epidemiologists.

Cohen co-authored a study in September 2019, which found that, on average, 10 million South Africans were infected with the flu each year.

READ MORE | For the first time in 36 years there will be no flu season in South Africa

The Western Cape government plans to start testing for Covid-19 antibodies soon, to get an idea of how many people may have had the virus already without knowing it, as the pandemic plateaus in the province.

The test kits should be able to help form a picture of how many people have been asymptomatic (infected but showed no signs of the virus) as the pandemic raged through the province.

The World Health Organisation, which is sending experts to South Africa, stated on its website that the serologic studies helped understand issues like how frequently infection occurred among different populations and how many people have had mild or asymptomatic infection.

The studies also helped to establish how many people have been infected, but may not have been identified by routine disease surveillance, and what proportion of the population may be immune from infection by the virus in the future.

Speaking during his "First Thursdays" Q&A with the public via Facebook, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde said laboratories in the province have also noted a drop in demand for tests, and an increase in negative results.

READ MORE | Western Cape to start Covid-19 antibody testing soon

A 38-year old South African now finds himself at the centre of a storm over a disastrous £252 million (R6 billion) contract to supply 43 million masks to United Kingdom government hospitals.

Nathan Engelbrecht is co-founder of Ayanda Capital, which in April won a contract with the UK government to supply the masks to the British National Health Service (NHS).

But the UK government said the masks couldn’t be used because they didn’t fit properly: instead of head loops, they have ear-loop fastenings, which according to UK standards means they may not fit tightly enough to create a “seal” between the mask and the face.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "very disappointed" about the masks, which have now been recalled, the BBC reported.

On top of that, it has now been revealed that an advisor to the UK government, Andrew Mills, initially received the contract. He then asked that the contract be transferred to Ayanda, which didn’t have any background in medical supplies, on the grounds that it could arrange overseas payments quicker. Mills is an adviser to Ayanda, which is owned by a Mauritius-based company, reports The Scotsman.

READ MORE | Meet the 38-year old South African involved in a R6 billion mask disaster in the UK

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 Friday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 19 million, while deaths were more than 700 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - with more than 4.9 million, as well as the most deaths - were just over 160 000

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

At least 14 people were killed and 15 others were seriously injured on Friday when an Indian passenger jet skidded off the runway after landing in heavy rain, officials said.

The Boeing-737 flight from Dubai was flying home Indians stranded overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Air India Express said more than 190 passengers and crew were on board the plane, which left from Dubai and landed at Kozhikode airport in the southern state of Kerala.

Television pictures showed part of the fuselage of the jet ripped apart, although there was no sign of any fire.

"I can confirm at least 14 deaths overall. Another 15 passengers have critical injuries. It is still a developing situation," senior local policeman Abdul Karim told AFP.

"We have at least 89 people, many of them with serious injuries, admitted at different Kozhikode hospitals. The ambulances are still coming in," said Sujith Das, another senior police official.

"We have been told that all those who have survived the crash also have some form of injuries."

READ MORE | At least 14 dead as Indian Covid-19 repatriation flight crashes on landing, breaks in 2

LATEST RESEARCH

It sometimes appears that the public is being given conflicting advice in media interviews, slide sets from the Department of Health that circulate over social media, and differences with guidelines from WHO and other countries.

This has all led to uncertainty and confusion for the public, employers and health care workers about how long we must isolate or quarantine in relation to Covid-19.

We are a group of clinicians, scientists, and other professionals, many of us Ministerial Advisory Committee members, who are unpacking guidelines to help the public, workplaces, employers and unions, as well as government departments to support a balanced return to relatively normal life as fast as possible while keeping people safe.

We have tried to align to guidelines and simplify wherever possible. The scientific references we have relied on are listed at the bottom of this article.

It is highly likely that people reading this will need to isolate or quarantine themselves in the coming months, possibly multiple times, so it is worth trying to understand the reasons for doing so.

READ MORE | Covid-19: How long should I isolate or quarantine for?

Who would have thought that a drug primarily used to treat malaria would cause such controversy amid the Covid-19 pandemic?

Hydroxychloroquine's rise to fame began when Chinese researchers found the drug to have some anti-inflammatory and anti-viral effects against the coronavirus in a lab setting.

Then it made global headlines thanks to US President Donald Trump, who touted it as a cure for Covid-19, despite researchers not having concluded their research on the drug. Many countries started stockpiling hydroxychloroquine, causing shortages, and negatively impacting on people who really needed it.

Then a study came out stating that the medication might actually be dangerous for coronavirus patients, and scientists around the world almost universally halted their research.

One would have thought that would be the end of it, but not so. After publication, the drug was retracted due to serious methodological and data issues, reigniting once more the debate over whether this medication could help treat Covid-19.

READ MORE | Covid-19: What’s next for hydroxychloroquine?

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