Infectious Diseases

01 August 2020

Coronavirus morning update: SA on brink of hunger crisis, and smoking soldiers face disciplinary

SA is facing a hunger crisis as millions face worsening economic conditions; and SANDF members caught smoking at Andrew Mlangeni funeral face internal disciplinary process.


Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 493 183.

According to the latest update, 8 005 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 326 171 recoveries.

So far, more than 2.9 million tests have been conducted, with more than 40 000 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

South Africa is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, 23.8% of the population, about 14 million people, faced extreme hunger and the figure was expected to soar to catastrophic levels.

Officials from the Department of Social Development presented these figures to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Social Development during a hybrid sitting on Friday.

The department's acting director-general Linton Mchunu said due to Covid-19 the food distribution strategy was altered.

"Since the outbreak of Covid-19 more than five million people have been fed by the department in partnership with various organisations as well as other ordinary citizens. Though this is not enough, it has certainly gone a long way in alleviating the unforeseen devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic," he said in his presentation.

"Statistics SA projects the economic impact to leave about 50% of the population at risk of being food insecure. So more still needs to be done."

READ MORE | Covid-19: SA facing a hunger crisis as millions face worsening economic conditions

Internal disciplinary processes are under way against South African National Defence Force (SANDF) members caught smoking at the funeral of Andrew Mlangeni on Wednesday, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele.

At a media briefing on Friday, Cele also referred to the police's investigation into the ANC's event held to mark the arrival of Mlangeni's body at his family's home in Dube on Tuesday.

"The question about Andrew Mlangeni's funeral is under investigation. There are people who have been asked by the police and as the investigation is finalised the docket will be taken to the [National Prosecuting Authority] for a decision.

"But the soldiers that you saw, already speaking to the minister of defence yesterday, has told me that the internal disciplines have been taken against the soldiers that were smoking there," Cele said.

Three soldiers were caught on camera standing closely together, lighting cigarettes and smoking during Mlangeni's funeral on Wednesday.

READ MORE | Smoking soldiers will face SANDF disciplinary, reveals Bheki Cele

The new school calendar may see the academic year ending by 15 December, a leaked document from a Heads of Education Departments Committee (Hedcom) workshop has shown.

The document, dated 28 July, recommends the year should be completed by 15 December for grades R to 11 and it should not be carried over to the first quarter of 2021.

It also recommends the Grade 12 National Senior Certificate examinations be completed by 15 December and marked in January.

The document also proposes a further break would be necessary to separate the third and fourth terms, with the suggestion being a week from 26 to 30 October.

READ MORE | Schools could close on 15 December, matric results to be released in February, leaked proposal shows

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni will ask Parliament's standing committee on finance to have certain Covid-19 tax relief measures extended, National Treasury said in a statement.

Treasury and the South African Revenue Service on Friday published four draft tax bills for public comment. These comments are to be received by the organisations by 31 August.

The Covid-19 Tax Bills, however, which were introduced in Parliament during the tabling of the supplementary budget in June, make tax provisions which are over and above the other four bills.

Treasury and SARS have provided R70 billion in tax relief measures to cushion the blow of the pandemic, by improving cashflows of households and businesses over a four-month period. Some of these measures came into effect on 1 April and 1 May, and are due to end on 31 July and 31 August, respectively.

READ MORE | Mboweni to ask Parliament for extension on Covid-19 tax relief measures

On Saturday, 1 August, a range of foreign visitors in South Africa would have faced being declared undesirable after having overstayed their visas.

But just hours before that, on Friday afternoon, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi gazetted a new set of directions to extend the validity of already-extended permits and visas.

The effect is that some visitors to SA who entered the country after 15 March now automatically have permission to remain until at least 31 October, regardless of the date on their paperwork. They will face no penalty on exiting SA before that date.

For refugees, asylum seekers, and holders of special Lesotho permits, the extension if automatic, with no application required.

Conditions attached to visas and permits also remain unaltered, so those who were not allowed to seek employment still may not do so.

READ MORE | Foreigners stuck in SA just got a last-second reprieve – and three more months to leave


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 17.4 million, while deaths were more than 675 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 4.54 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 153 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide


New research published in JAMA Pediatrics reports that the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in older children leads to similar levels of viral nucleic acid as in adults, but that these viral nucleic acids are even higher in five-year-old children.

Viral nucleic acids refer to the amount of viral material present in the body, should the virus get a foothold. When a child younger than five is infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that can lead to the disease Covid-19, they may show mild symptoms or even be asymptomatic, while still carrying a large amount of viral material – up to 100 times more than adults – in their noses and throats.

The cohort study included subjects younger than a month up to the age of 65 who all tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The researchers analysed their nasal swab samples to reveal the amount of nucleic acid present.

The authors state that this does not necessarily mean that children younger than five are more capable of passing the virus on to others, but suggest that the findings could influence the debate over the reopening of schools.

READ MORE | Children under 5 are major carriers of the coronavirus, study finds

When two pairs of generally healthy young brothers with no immune-related disease required mechanical ventilation in the intensive care unit (ICU), doctors and researchers at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands considered whether genetic factors may have played a role in compromising their immunity.

Although the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, can affect people of all ages, studies have highlighted two groups of people that are at a higher risk of getting severe Covid-19: older people, and those with underlying medical conditions.

In the case of the first pair of brothers, one of them died due to infection, while the other recovered

This rare occurrence triggered the curiosity of a physician from the MUMC+ (Maastricht University Medical Centre+) department of clinical genetics. She alerted her colleagues in Nijmegen who then followed up with an investigation.

"In such a case, you immediately wonder whether genetic factors could play a role," said geneticist Alexander Hoischen.

READ MORE | How genetic mutations in healthy young men made them susceptible to severe Covid-19

As experts learn more about Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, it is now known that some comorbidities increase the risk of more severe disease.

One of these risk factors that makes patients more susceptible to severe Covid-19 is obesity – a body mass index higher than 25.

Previous research published on Health24 already established that obese patients were more likely to develop blood clotting in the lungs, leading to respiratory distress and even death. But now, the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre is looking at what could be the culprit: high levels of the hormone leptin.

Leptin is a hormone that is released from fat cells in adipose tissue. This hormone sends signals to the hypothalamus in the brain to help regulate hunger and long-term food intake and the way the energy from that food is used. Basically, leptin helps us to maintain our body weight.

People who are obese have unusually high levels of leptin, as the brain does not always respond to the hunger queues released from the hormone. When there are already excess fat stores in the body, the body may become resistant to leptin, which causes the fat cells to produce even more leptin in the same way insulin resistant people overproduce insulin.

READ MORE | Why can Covid-19 be so dangerous where patients are obese?

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