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Infectious Diseases

Updated 29 April 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Why lockdown was eased, 1 million cases in US, and experts speak out on BCG

Your latest coronavirus news: The health minister says the decision to ease the lockdown was based on scientific calculations; cases in the US are now more than one milion; and experts warn that babies in countries with high rates of tuberculosis must have priority access to the BCG vaccine.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 4 996.

According to the latest update, 93 deaths have been recorded in the country.

So far, 185 497 tests have been conducted.

READ MORE |All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The country has 4 996 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with 185 497 tests conducted as of Tuesday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced during a virtual briefing.

In addition, the Department of Health reported three more Covid-19-related deaths, bringing the number to 93.

"We are quite fortunate that we have a low mortality rate of 1.9%, and there are others with underlying conditions who have not passed away," Mkhize said, adding hypertension and diabetes were among some of the common co-morbidities.

At the briefing, he was joined by his deputy, Joe Phaahla, provincial MECs and experts from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, where they unpacked the country's Covid-19 situational analysis and the way forward in a post-lockdown scenario.

Mkhize said President Cyril Ramaphosa's decision to ease the lockdown was based on scientific calculations.

Ramaphosa announced a risk-adjusted strategy on Thursday to allow for the phased re-opening of the economy.

"We are quite pleased with what has happened, at the point where the president says we need to ease it down, it is based on scientific projections [where] our calculations proved that there was not going to be a further benefit," Mkhize said.

According to him, the model, which came to that conclusion, found "we need to start managing the lockdown going forward instead of continuing with it as it was".

Mkhize added factors such as food and income security had come into play for the government when determining how to manage the outbreak and ensuring life was sustainable.

READ MORE | Covid-19 numbers rise to 4 996, with close to 200 000 tests conducted to date

While the country awaits an update from the Department of Basic Education on how it plans to reopen schools post lockdown, unions believe there are outstanding issues that need to be considered before any moves are finalised and revealed to the public.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and her higher education counterpart, Blade Nzimande, were expected to hold a virtual media briefing on Monday, but it was postponed the day before.

The departments said they needed to align their interventions with those of the National Command Council, which is leading the government's planning in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

Motshekga, in particular, is under acute pressure to salvage the 2020 academic year.

READ MORE | As govt scrambles to save academic year, safety-first calls grow

While economic activity is expected to be phased in as from this Friday, government is anticipating that the impact of Covid-19 coronavirus will be felt for the foreseeable future.

Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, chairperson of the economic cluster in the National Coronavirus Command Council, on Tuesday said government’s economic recovery plan would take six to eight months.

Kubayi-Ngubane said the lengthy plan was preferred as government expects the Covid-19 infections to only peak in September.

With this in mind, the tourism minister said she did not expect most industries to be back to full capacity on Friday but expected workers to be reintroduced to the labour force in a phased, risk-adjusted manner that would not undo the work done by the national lockdown.

READ MORE | Government expects lengthy economic recovery period from Covid-19 impact

The Department of Home Affairs will start registering births from 1 May when the country enters a level 4 lockdown, so as to avoid a backlog of birth certificates.

Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi, his deputy, Njabulo Nzuza, and department officials on Tuesday had a virtual meeting with Parliament's portfolio committee on home affairs and the standing committee on security and justice.

In his presentation, Nzuza said the department decided to render the following three critical services: death registrations, temporary identity certificates and the re-issue of birth certificates.  

From 27 March to 24 April, 2020, the department issued 31 585 death certificates, 4 731 re-issued birth certificates and 9 101 temporary identification certificates.

"The Births and Deaths Act requires that births should be registered within 30 days from date of birth. Ordinarily, any child registered after 30 days is considered as Late Registration of Births (LRB)," reads the presentatio

READ MORE | Home Affairs will register births during level 4 lockdown

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 Tuesday night, positive cases worldwide were just short of 3.1 million, while deaths were more than 216 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1 008 000, as well as the most deaths - more than 58 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

State and national leaders in the United States signalled an increasing willingness to curtail coronavirus-related lockdowns even as increased testing showed that the number of people infected by the virus surpassed one million for the first time on Tuesday.

More than 57 000 people have died from complications of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, public health officials at Johns Hopkins University reported on Tuesday.

The number of reported US cases has doubled in the last 18 days, and now accounts for one-third of all infections in the world. About 30 percent of the cases have occurred in New York state, followed by New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania.

Despite the grim milestone, US President Donald Trump was at the forefront of calls to kickstart the country's economy. In a Monday news briefing, he urged some state leaders to "start thinking about school openings, because a lot of people are wanting to have the school openings".

READ MORE | US struggles to reopen as coronavirus cases hit 1 million mark

China on Tuesday went on the offensive against international criticism over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, accusing US politicians of "barefaced lies".

The new virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year before spreading across the world, and countries including the United States and Australia have called for an investigation into how the disease transformed into a global pandemic.

But Beijing came out swinging on Tuesday in response to foreign criticism, saying the US was attacking China to divert attention from its own handling of the outbreak.

China also defended its ambassador to Australia who has warned that Chinese people could boycott imported goods in retaliation to the demands for a virus inquiry.

READ MORE | China decries 'barefaced lies' over its handling of virus

South Asia could face a further public health crisis as children miss routine vaccinations, the UN warned on Tuesday, spurring fears that the fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic might reverse hard-earned gains in the region.

The United Nations children's agency Unicef said hundreds of thousands were at risk as lockdowns across South Asia halted immunisation drives and parents refrained from taking their children to doctors to be inoculated.

"While the Covid-19 virus does not appear to make many children seriously ill, the health of hundreds of thousands of children could be impacted by this disruption of regular immunisation services," said Jean Gough, director of Unicef's South Asia office.

"This is a very serious threat. Early action is key."

READ MORE | South Asia faces fresh health crisis as children miss vaccinations

LATEST RESEARCH

Babies in countries with high rates of tuberculosis must have priority access to the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, warn experts.

There has been an increase in demand for the vaccine after a paper was published that speculated it might offer protection against Covid-19.

But a global shortage of BCG, particularly in 2014 and 2017, resulted in a “dramatic increase in the incidence of TB meningitis in young children”, according to the 11 public health and paediatric specialists in a letter published on Tuesday in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

Describing BCG as a “scarce resource” because of a lack of production facilities, the authors appeal to the global community to exercise “responsible stewardship” by ensuring that the vaccine goes first to all newborns and unvaccinated children under the age of three where TB is prevalent.

“The use of BCG for an unproven indication is irresponsible and may deplete BCG stocks for young children, for whom it has been proven to be a lifesaving preventive tool against TB-related morbidity and mortality,” state the experts, including Professor Simon Schaaf from the Desmond Tutu TB Centre and University of Stellenbosch’s Paediatrics and Child Health department, Professor Mark Cotton, Director of Stellenbosch’s Children's Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Unit, and Dr James Seddon from Imperial College in London.

READ MORE | Keep TB vaccine for babies, implore experts

Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), is largely known to cause respiratory complications such as pneumonia, shortness of breath, extreme coughing and even fatal acute respiratory distress syndrome in patients.

As scientists unpack the new coronavirus day by day, we have come to know that it may cause gastrointestinal symptoms and, in some cases, even neurological problems. But what about its effect on the rest of the body – specifically in terms of fertility and the urinary tract? 

New research published in Nature Reviews Urology suggests that there is evidence that Covid-19 has implications for the urogenital tract, something which should be considered when treating Covid-19.

According to the paper, most patients with severe Covid-19 present with pneumonia-related symptoms, but some patients could develop serious urinary tract complications, including acute kidney injury (AKI), which requires continuous renal therapy.

READ MORE | Researchers caution on effects of coronavirus on male fertility

You can't hug or shake hands these days without risking coronavirus infection, but new research finds that sexual intercourse might be safe.

Researchers analysed semen samples from 34 men in China an average of one month after they were diagnosed with mild to moderate cases of Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Laboratory tests did not detect the coronavirus in any of the semen samples, and there was no evidence of the virus in the men's testes, according to the study published online recently in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

While this small study suggests that the chances of sexual transmission of the coronavirus are remote, it wasn't comprehensive enough to fully rule out the possibility, the researchers noted.

READ MORE | You can't get coronavirus through sex, study suggests

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