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Infectious Diseases

01 July 2020

Coronavirus morning update: Mkhize warns on lockdown; and shocking claims about EC hospital

The health minister warns that another hard lockdown is "possible"; and shocking claims from isolated patients at an Eastern Cape hospital.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 151 209.

According to the latest update, 2 657 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 73 543 recoveries.

So far, 1.63 million tests have been conducted, with 33 013 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has warned that South Africa is on the verge of facing a spike in coronavirus cases and related deaths which means another hard lockdown "may become necessary".

Speaking to Talk Radio 702 morning host Bongani Bingwa on Tuesday, Mkhize said things were "getting tough".

"I wish I could say otherwise. We have warned that the surge will come, [especially] in the winter months. I'm afraid the numbers are increasing and we need people to be aware and take all the necessary precautions to try and protect ourselves."

Mkhize said the infection rate in Gauteng, in particular, had increased faster than had been anticipated.

He added that the so-called "hard lockdown" – Level 5 – had helped prepare the healthcare sector for the anticipated surge in infections.

While he acknowledged that government could not extend the hard lockdown longer than it did, "we may still do it in the future".

READ MORE | Covid-19: Another hard lockdown 'possible' as SA prepares for spike in deaths - Mkhize

Going without food for hours, re-using bedpans filled with faeces, an overflowing bin and being ignored by nursing staff are just some of the conditions patients in isolation at Settlers Hospital in Makhanda say they have had to endure.

News24 has spoken to a patient, as well as the family member of a second patient, after they were placed in isolation showing signs of Covid-19.

The isolation room is for "patients under investigation" for Covid-19, pending their confirmed test results.

One patient, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimised, said it would be better to just go home.

PICS | Used bedpans, overflowing bins, no food for hours - claims from EC hospital isolated patients

The Covid-19 test samples that were found strewn near the busy N2 in the Eastern Cape on Monday could have infected people with Covid-19.

The disturbing statement was made by Eastern Cape Department of Heath Superintendent-General Dr Thobile Mbengashe on Tuesday.

eNCA reported on Monday that hundreds of the used specimen had been found dumped on the N2 roadside by a jogger. The health department and the National Health Laboratory Services have launched investigations into the incident.

Speaking at a media briefing held by Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane and his cabinet, Mbengashe said: "The specimens that were in that courier van are what we call bio-hazard, meaning they are capable of spreading infection to those who came into contact with them."

Mbengashe said the incident undermined the government's programme to fight the spread of coronavirus. He slammed the incident. "We want to assure people that it is an incident that will never happen again and should be condemned. It should not have happened."

READ MORE | Covid-19: 'Dangerous' dumping of tests kits on N2 could have infected people - health dept

Were 34 000 hospital beds occupied because of alcohol related incidents after the ban on liquor was lifted on 1 June?

Minister of Police Bheki Cele gave this statistic during an ANC Ethekwini lecture about the role of the ANC during the Covid-19 pandemic on 11 June.

During the lecture, which was live on Facebook, Cele said: "Six hundred thousand people - they die through alcohol in the Republic of South Africa, come every year. I'm sure I'm correct with that number, but since the opening, 34 000 beds are occupied in the Republic of South Africa as we speak."

News24 looked at both the statistics quoted, that 600 000 people die as a result of alcohol annually and that 34 000 hospital beds have been occupied since the ban on liquor was lifted as the Level 3 lockdown regulations came into effect.

READ MORE | FACT CHECK: Were 34 000 hospital beds occupied by alcohol related incidents after liquor ban lifted?

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 almost 10.39 million while deaths were more than 508 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 2.62 million as well as the most deaths - more than 127 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

In sworn testmony before a US Senate committee, America's leading infectious disease expert predicted the US could soon see as many as 100 000 new Covid-19 cases per day "if this does not turn around."

The grim warning came from Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the most trusted medical figure in that country.

"If you look at what's going on, and just look at some of the film clips that we've seen of people congregating - often without masks, of being in crowds, jumping over and avoiding paying attention to the guidelines that we've carefully put out - we are going to continue to be in a lot of trouble, and there's going to be a lot of hurt if that does not stop," Fauci told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday.

Fauci warned weeks earlier that the "consequences could be really serious" if American states rushed their reopening initiatives without having the testing and contact tracing in place to isolate the virus.

In response to a question from Senator Elizabeth Warren on how many cases and deaths the US could end up seeing, Fauci declined to offer a death estimate beyond his initial prognosis of somewhere between 100 000 and 200 000. However, he did offer a grim assessment for new cases, which are now exceeding the 40 000 mark this week.

"We are now having forty-plus thousand new cases a day," Fauci said. "I would not be surprised if we go up to 100 000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned."

READ MORE | The US could see 100 000 new Covid-19 cases a day, it’s most trusted medical figure says

LATEST RESEARCH

As the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic intensifies, experts are trying various options, including the use of antibodies created in people after infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Right now, scientists are still not sure about the extent of immunity provided by SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Even though the body does respond to the virus by creating antibodies, experts are still divided on how long these antibodies can provide immunity. It is believed that this immunity may be short-lived, which will require booster vaccines or follow-up treatments.

Now, research published in Nature shows the evidence needed to consider in the development of antibody immunotherapy. To help with this, the researchers went back to investigate antibodies from a person infected with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which was also caused by a coronavirus.

Coronavirus stems from the word "corona", which means "crown", referring to the spikes on the surface of the virus. These spikes help the virus to adhere to various cells in the body, where it then binds to a protein on the cell’s surface, called the ACE2 receptor.

The ideal antibodies to help fend off SARS-CoV-2 in the body would have to be able to recognise these viral spikes and block the virus’s ability to bind to the ACE2 receptors. These types of antibodies would be known as "neutralising” antibodies".

READ MORE | Could antibodies from SARS help fight Covid-19?

As the Covid-19 pandemic progresses, researchers are focusing their efforts on finding a dedicated vaccine or treatment. Without a vaccine, there is nothing else to do but to impose measures such as face masks and physical distancing to curb infections.

But, as a shortcut, many medical professionals have wondered about the efficacy of existing vaccines. The tuberculosis vaccine, for example, was one of them. Now, the sons of the couple who did research on a polio vaccine in the 1950s, wondered if this could not be used in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

According to a feature published by the New York Times, the sons of Dr Marina Voroshilova, a virologist during the 1950s, also grew up to become virologists – and posed the question whether the live polio vaccine could be relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reason? People who received this vaccine never became sick with other viral illnesses for at least a month afterwards. Dr Voroshilova injected her boys with the polio vaccine each fall to protect them against seasonal influenza.

With this observation, scientists in various countries are wondering if this vaccine couldn’t be repurposed as a temporary protection measure against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Polio has been practically eradicated around the globe, but could this welcome benefit help us during the current pandemic?

READ MORE | Could a vaccine strategy from the Soviet Union be relevant in coronavirus pandemic?

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