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Infectious Diseases

10 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Latest on SA vaccine trial, and dept moves to clear up graves comments

A Covid-19 vaccine could become available in the first quarter of 2021; and the Gauteng health dept explains comments about 1.5 million graves ahead of Covid-19 spike.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 238 339.

According to the latest update, 3 720 of deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 113 061 recoveries.

So far, more than 2 million tests have been conducted, with 56 170 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Africa could have a Covid-19 vaccine in the first quarter of 2021 if human trials underway in South Africa succeed, a university professor heading the trials said on Thursday.

The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 experimental vaccine is one of 19 being tested on humans globally in a race to find vaccines to stop a pandemic that has killed more than half a million people so far.

It is also being tested in Brazil by Oxford University scientists who are working with British drugmaker AstraZeneca on development and production.

"A vaccine could be made commercial as early as the beginning of next year," said Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at University of Witwatersrand who is leading the South African trial.

"But it is completely dependent on the results of clinical trials," he cautioned, adding that out of the 19 potential vaccines being tried out, the most positive outcome would be if even two succeed.

READ MORE | Africa could have Covid-19 vaccine early next year if human trials work - SA trial lead

The Gauteng Department of Health (GDoH) has moved to explain Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku's comments on over 1.5 million grave sites being prepared.

On Wednesday, Masuku said more than 1.5 million grave sites were being prepared.

His remarks were made as Covid-19 cases in Gauteng have been increasing sharply.

On Thursday, in a statement, the department said it wanted to clarify the confusion about the number of graves dug for expected Covid-19 deaths.

"The province does not have over a million already open dug graves, the over a million graves refers to the collective capacity municipalities can take," the statement read.

READ MORE| Gauteng health dept explains comments about 1.5 million graves ahead of Covid-19 spike

The Department of Health has placed on record that it values the contributions of traditional health practitioners (THP) in the fight against Covid-19, and have asked THP's to refer patients to the next level of care should they present with symptoms of the new coronavirus. 

"THPs play an important role in addressing the burden of diseases in South Africa within the primary healthcare system.

"The message to THPs is to refer patients presenting with symptoms of coronavirus infection to the next level of care," health department spokesperson Popo Maja told News24, adding that traditional medicines/indigenous plants are not excluded by the department from the search for treatments.

Lecturer and PhD candidate in Public Health Pharmacy at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Mncengeli Sibanda, said that the World Health Organization (WHO), at an international level, and the government of South Africa, at a local level, are working with stakeholders and research institutions to select vaccines and medicines, and that these include traditional medicines products, which can be investigated for clinical efficacy and safety for Covid-19 treatment.

READ MORE | Covid-19: This is the role traditional medicine practitioners can play - health dept

The High Court in Pretoria will next week hear an application by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association for leave to appeal a ruling that kept cigarettes banned.

"We’ve just received confirmation from the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria that our application for leave to appeal the ruling of 26 June 2020 dismissing our cigarette ban challenge will be heard on the 15th of July 2020,"said Sinen Mguni, chairperson of FITA, in a WhatsApp message to Fin24 on Thursday.

Cigarettes have been banned since the start of the lockdown in late March. FITA's court challenge to have the ban overturned was dismissed with costs in late June.

FITA had in early July submitted an application for leave to appeal the initial ruling that kept tobacco products banned, arguing the court made a number of errors in its reading of the Disaster Management Act, among other points.

READ MORE | Court agrees to hear bid by tobacco group for leave to appeal ruling that kept cigarettes banned

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 Thursday night, positive cases worldwide were just over 12.1 million, while deaths were almost 552 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - close to 3.1 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 132 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The World Health Organisation on Thursday released new guidelines on the transmission of the novel coronavirus that acknowledge some reports of airborne transmission of the virus that causes Covid-19, but stopped short of confirming that the virus spreads through the air.

In its latest transmission guidance, issued on Thursday, the WHO acknowledged that some outbreak reports related to indoor crowded spaces have suggested the possibility of aerosol transmission, such as during choir practice, in restaurants or in fitness classes.

How frequently the coronavirus can spread by the airborne or aerosol route - as opposed to by larger droplets in coughs and sneezes - is not clear.

But the WHO said more research is "urgently needed to investigate such instances and assess their significance for transmission of Covid-19."

READ MORE | New WHO guidance calls for more evidence on airborne transmission

LATEST RESEARCH

In just over seven months, there have been more than 11 million cases of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 globally.

As the pandemic progresses, scientists are investigating how new strains develop, as this will tell us more about how the virus is spreading, and how it could affect vaccine development.

Now, new research from Sheffield University, published in the journal Cell on 6 July 2020, has shown that a new mutation of the viral genome of Covid-19 has improved its ability to infect human cells, according to a news release.

This means that the virus spreads more easily without necessarily being deadlier.

READ MORE | A new, more infectious - but not deadlier - coronavirus strain is now the dominant global strain

As the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, we're getting to understand a bit more about the various factors that can increase your risk of severe Covid-19 infection. This includes comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and age.

Now, a new study published on 7 July in pre-print form in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, found in a survey of more than 86 000 people that a common heartburn drug, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPI), can increase the risk of Covid-19 infection.

From the survey, led by scientists from Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre, more than 53 000 of the 86 000 participants suffered from acid reflux, heartburn or regurgitation, and took medication for these conditions. Out of these people, more than 3 300 tested positive for Covid-19.

After analysing the data, the scientists found that those participants who used PPI to treat their conditions were two to four times more likely to test positive for Covid-19.

READ MORE | Popular heartburn drugs may increase Covid-19 risk, new 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.

Image credit: Getty Images