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Infectious Diseases

Updated 07 August 2020

Coronavirus morning update: 'Not yet safe to lift cigarette ban', and extra R6bn for Covid grants

Government to lift cigarette ban when it’s safe to do so; extra R6bn provided for Covid-19 relief grant; and alcohol ban causes SAB to cancel R2.5bn of investments.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 538 184.

According to the latest update, 9 604 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 387 316 recoveries.

So far, just over 3.1 million tests have been conducted, with more than 36 000 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Government is well aware of the economic harm caused by the ban on the sale of tobacco products, as well as potential job losses. It is monitoring the situation closely and will lift the ban as soon as it is safe to do so and would not impact the health care system.

Currently, however, it is not yet safe to lift the ban.

These submissions were made on behalf of Minister of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in a challenge of the ban by British American Tobacco SA and others in the Western Cape High Court.

The minister has indicated that the aim of the ban is to stop people smoking so that they do not get Covid-19 in a more severe form, leading to more ICU beds being needed and potentially over-burdening the health system during the pandemic.

"Government has demonstrated a gradual easing of restrictions and will lift the ban entirely as soon as it be done safely," Advocate Andrew Breitenbach SC said in court on Thursday.

Arguments on behalf of BATSA were presented on Wednesday. BATSA is South Africa's largest cigarette manufacturer, whose brands include Dunhill, Peter Stuyvesant and Lucky Strike.

Breitenbach said the minister is clear that the temporary ban on the sale of tobacco products will not lead to the complete stopping of smoking, but she merely wants to reduce the strain on the public health system with this temporary Covid-19-related measure.

READ MORE | Govt aware of economic harm of cigarette sale ban - but will lift when safe, court told

Government has allocated an extra R6 billion to fund the R350 special Covid-19 grant for those without an income as well as asylum seekers and special permit holders.

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu revealed in response to a written parliamentary question from Freedom Front Plus MP Tamarin Breedt that the initial allocation for the R350 grant from May to October was R3 457 696 700.

Breedt wanted details on whether her department has made any additional resources and/or funding available to assist with the growing number of applicants for the grant.

The question was posed in light of the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruling that extended the Social Relief of Distress Grant to asylum seekers and special permit holders.

Zulu said: "Motivation was done to National Treasury to indicate that this would not be sufficient. In the special adjustment budget of 24 June, an additional amount of approximately R6 billion was provided for this relief grant."

READ MORE | Govt allocates R6 billion more for special R350 Covid-19 grant

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed a six-member Cabinet committee to deal with all allegations of corruption related to Covid-19 procurement.

In a leaked letter to ministers, Ramaphosa said following Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, he had appointed the committee which would be chaired by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

Other members include Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, Police Minister Bheki Cele, Public Service and Administration Minister Senzo Mchunu and Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

"In this regards, I request your full cooperation in providing all information related to names of companies and amounts of tenders and contracts that have been awarded in your respective departments [and entities] during the period of Covid-19 and national state of disaster," Ramaphosa wrote in the letter.

"These lists must be provided to the above committee as a matter of urgency this week. The committee will prepare a comprehensive report and I intend to release this information publicly".

READ MORE | Covid-19 corruption: Ramaphosa appoints Cabinet committee to deal with tenders

International experts say there is no obvious reason why South Africa’s ban on the sale of alcohol should not be lifted and its prohibition could breed contempt for the state.

This comes as South Africa’s alcohol industry continues to call for the ban on the sale of alcohol to be lifted, saying that it is detrimental to the economy and job security.

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at UK think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Dr Westley Clark, the dean’s executive professor for public health and psychology at Santa Clara University in the US, questioned the rationale behind the ban at the South African Breweries’ (SAB’s) Impact Assessment and Discussion on the Alcohol ban.

Last month, the government reinstated the alcohol ban after a brief reprieve, due to its contribution to trauma cases in hospitals, which would take away beds from Covid-19 cases.

South Africa has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases and has moved to ensure that there are resources available to deal with them as they head towards the 550 000.

This week SAB cancelled R2.5 billion of investments due to the impact of the ban.

The AB InBev subsidiary said the ban is expected to result in 120 000 job losses in the alcohol industry and losses in excise tax of more than R12 billion.

READ MORE | Alcohol ban could be the perfect brew for contempt towards the state

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 around 18.8 million, while deaths were just over 710 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 4.8 million, as well as the most deaths - almost 160 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

More than 18.88 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 707 758 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

The United States added 1 262 more deaths to its Covid-19 toll in the 24 hours ending at 20:30 Wednesday (00:30 GMT), according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The world's largest economy also added 53 158 new cases of the virus, the Baltimore-based institution's tracker showed.

The US has now recorded 4 818 328 cases in total, which have resulted in 157 930 deaths, making it by far the worst-hit country in the world.

President Donald Trump nonetheless remained optimistic on Wednesday, saying: "This thing's going away. It will go away like things go away and my view is that schools should be open."

The pandemic has seen a resurgence since June in many states, particularly in the south and west.

READ MORE | Covid-19 wrap: Global cases cross 18.8m, human vaccine trials in Indonesia, Germany tightens testing

LATEST RESEARCH

A new survey that gathered data from 2 000 people in the UK and US showed men taller than 6ft (1.8m) have double the risk of being diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

The research was carried out by data scientists in the UK, US and Norway, and was led by experts at the University of Oxford.

The findings don't suggest tall people are genetically more vulnerable to infection. Instead, the researchers point out that the virus could spread through aerosol transmission, which involves tiny bug-containing particles that remain suspended in the air after being exhaled.

The researchers, therefore, hypothesise that taller people are at a higher risk of being infected because they are exposed to more of these particles. The results were published in the preprint server medrxiv.org, and have yet to be peer reviewed.

READ MORE | People over 1.8m may be 'twice as likely' to contract new coronavirus

Poverty and crowded living conditions increase the spread of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, a new study suggests.

Researchers reached that conclusion after testing nearly 400 women who gave birth at two hospitals in New York City during the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak.

"Our study shows that neighbourhood socioeconomic status and household crowding are strongly associated with risk of infection. This may explain why Black and Hispanic people living in these neighbourhoods are disproportionately at risk for contracting the virus," researcher Dr Alexander Melamed said in a Columbia University news release.

Melamed is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City.

Specifically, Melamed's team studied the connection between neighbourhood characteristics and infection with the virus that causes Covid-19.

READ MORE | Covid-19 spreads quickly in crowded homes and poor neighbourhoods

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