Coronavirus morning recap: More good news on Pfizer's vaccine, and exercising while wearing a mask

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Pfizer ends Covid-19 vaccine trial with 95% efficacy, to seek emergency-use authorisation in US

Pfizer said on Wednesday that final results from the late-stage trial of its Covid-19 vaccine show it was 95% effective, adding it had the required two-months of safety data and would apply for emergency US authorisation within days. 

The drugmaker said efficacy of the vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech SE was consistent across age and ethnicity demographics, and that there were no major side effects, a sign that the immunisation could be employed broadly around the world.

Efficacy in adults over 65 years, who are at particular risk from the virus, was over 94%.

The final analysis comes just one week after initial results from the trial showed the vaccine was more than 90% effective. Moderna on Monday released preliminary data for its vaccine, showing similar effectiveness.

The better-than-expected data from the two vaccines, both developed with new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), have raised hopes for an end to a resurgent pandemic that has killed more than 1.3 million people globally and wreaked havoc upon economies and daily life.

However, while some groups such as healthcare workers will be prioritised in the United States for vaccinations this year, it will be months before large-scale rollouts begin.

READ | Exercising while wearing your face mask on is not dangerous, researchers say

Since a face mask is supposed to cover the mouth and nose in order to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, wearing one while exercising is uncomfortable for most people.

However, contrary to previous findings that wearing a mask during exercising impairs oxygen intake – as well as the World Health Organization's official advice, stating that “people should NOT wear masks while exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably" – a new study suggests that this isn’t the case.

According to the researchers who looked at the effects of face masks on the cardiorespiratory system (the heart, blood vessels, and lungs) during physical activity, most people should be able to breathe perfectly well with a mask on while exercising, despite it not feeling comfortable.

"There might be a perceived greater effort with activity, but the effects of wearing a mask on the work of breathing, on gases like oxygen and CO2 in blood or other physiological parameters, are small, often too small to be detected," study author and exercise physiologist, Susan Hopkins from the University of California San Diego (UCSD), said in a news release by the university.

The findings were published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

For their study, Hopkins and colleagues reviewed existing scientific literature on the effects of different face masks, including surgical masks, N95 respirators, and cloth face masks, on cardiorespiratory response during physical activity.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 757 144.

According to the latest update, 20 556 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 701 534 recoveries.

So far, more than 5.18 million tests have been conducted, with 28 703 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

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

Late on Wednesday night, positive cases worldwide were close to 56 million, while deaths were more than 1.34 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 11.42 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 249 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | As SA’s first Covid-19 peak built up, medical aids spent less than in 2019

In the immediate run-up to South Africa's first peak in coronavirus infections and deaths attributed to Covid-19, spending by medical schemes declined, new data shows.

In the three months to the end of June, the "net relevant healthcare expenditure" per medical aid beneficiary per month was R1,474, the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) said in a summary of the quarterly filings it received from funds.

That is down 8.1% from the 2019 figure for the same three months, and more than 15% lower than budget.

South Africa's deaths ascribed to the pandemic peaked in the third week of July, while new daily reported infections reached roughly half their eventual peak by the end of June.

Yet spending by medical schemes slowed, to an average of R26.3 billion per month, compared to R28.6 billion per month over the same three months in 2019.

Hospitals, medical schemes, and others in the healthcare industry reported that South Africans delayed elective procedures and avoided visiting their GPs, or any other medical provider, for fear of the coronavirus.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | New Zealand had great success in containing Covid-19, but public wellbeing paid a price

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has been causing an enormous amount of mental distress all over the world.

While many countries struggled to cope with high numbers of seriously ill patients, New Zealand’s speedy reaction contained and ultimately eliminated the virus. These measures, however, came at a cost, not just to the country's economy, but also to its people’s mental wellbeing, according to recent survey results.

About halfway through their toughest lockdown, a demographically representative public survey revealed higher than normal levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, especially among younger people.

"New Zealand's lockdown successfully eliminated Covid-19 from the community, but our results show this achievement brought a significant psychological toll," study co-author and psychologist Susanna Every-Palmer from the University of Otago, Canada, said in a news release.

The survey results, which included 2 010 responses from adult New Zealanders between 15 and 18 April, corresponding to days 19 to 22 of the lockdown, were published in PLOS One.

According to the results, the level of mental distress was much higher in younger adults, with almost half of those aged between 18 and 24 experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress, compared to less than one in 10 adults aged 65 years and older.

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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