Coronavirus morning recap: Mkhize concerned over risk of Covid resurgence; and the role of empathy

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Covid-19: How to get mask and distancing rebels to conform – induce empathy

They say that empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human. In the findings of a new study, it could also save lives.

The study’s researchers, from Aarhus University, Denmark, have found that having empathy for vulnerable people at risk of Covid-19 (such as the elderly and those with comorbidities) means that we are more likely to maintain physical distancing and use face masks, ultimately helping to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

"We show that empathy for the most vulnerable is an important factor, and that it can be used actively to combat the pandemic,” said study co-author, Stefan Pfattheicher, an associate professor at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University.

“I believe that policymakers can use our new knowledge in their efforts to get more people to follow the guidelines – and ultimately save lives,” he added.

Empathy can be simply defined as the capacity to perceive and process emotions and experiences of others, in a way that leads to concern, and typically a compassionate response, explains Helen Riess, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University.

For the study, the research team initially tested the relationship between study participants' empathy and their attitude to physical distancing.

READ | UK researchers aim to infect volunteers to study Covid exposure

British researchers said they hope to expose healthy volunteers to the virus that causes Covid-19 in a groundbreaking study to discover the amount needed for people to become infected.

The Human Challenge Programme - a partnership that includes Imperial College London - hopes the work will ultimately help to "reduce the spread of the coronavirus, mitigate its impact and reduce deaths".

In what researchers called a world first, the opening stage of the project will examine the possibility of exposing healthy volunteers to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

They aim to recruit volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30 with no underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or obesity.

"In this initial phase, the aim will be to discover the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause a person to develop Covid-19," Imperial College said in a statement.

The volunteer would be infected via the nose, Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial, told BBC Radio 4.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 708 359.

According to the latest update, 18 741 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 641 706 recoveries.

So far, more than 4.6 million tests have been conducted, with 26 537 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Early on Thursday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 41.07 million, while deaths were close to 1.13 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - almost 8.32 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 222 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | Covid-19: Mkhize warns of cases spiking as wife discharged from hospital

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize is concerned about the risk of a Covid-19 resurgence amid "small flames" he sees redeveloping in parts of the country.

"I wish to bring to the attention of all South Africans that our epidemiological reports are showing that in the country over the last seven days, there has been an increase of 9.1% in new cases. Similarly, over the last 14 days, there has been an increase of 10.7%," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

"It would be irresponsible of us to ignore 'small flames' that we see redeveloping in some parts of the country. You will recall that a few months ago when we witnessed these trends, it wasn't long before we started experiencing a burden on our health system."

Mkhize added they were also seeing concerning increases in some provinces.

In the last seven days, there was a marked increase of new cases in the Western Cape.

"The province recorded a 42% increase in new infections. According to our resurgence plan, we define this significant spike in new cases in the Western Cape as a resurgence," he said.

"The Western Cape provincial health department has identified specific clusters that are responsible for the increase in cases, and has advised that each of these clusters has been investigated and a detailed outbreak response is being mounted."

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | A simulation of Covid-19 spread in a classroom found kids in the back corners were safest - here's why.

In a simulation of coronavirus spread in a socially distanced classroom, the back corners of the room were the safest spots.

Researchers at the University of New Mexico simulated the path of small and large particles in a computer model of a classroom setting, published today in Physics of Fluids. They found that the distribution of aerosol particles — airborne viral particles smaller than one micron, which can float further than six feet — was not uniform.

As such, where students sit relative to air-conditioning outlets matters.

Students seated in corners also benefit from not being surrounded by all sides, Khaled Talaat, co-author of the study, told Business Insider. Those seated in the middle of the classroom, on the other hand, were most likely to transmit particles to others, so Talaat recommended getting rid of the middle seat entirely.

The study also found that opening windows, in addition to air conditioning, increased the amount of particles cleared from the room. Additionally, installing desk shields helped divert the path of any remaining particles.

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

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