Coronavirus morning recap: Recommendations for SA hotspots, and latest on vaccines

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LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Covid vaccines update: Trials, results - what we know so far

Pfizer and BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and Johnson & Johnson are the most promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates that have been shattering all speed records in the history of vaccine development.

It's been just more than two weeks since results from Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine trial was shown to be 94.5% efficacious (the likelihood that a vaccine will work in people), and since the announcement of the end of Pfizer and BioNtech’s trial, which also revealed an impressive 95% efficacy.

Results from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca’s trial were also promising, with up to 90% efficacy reported, although there has been some confusion.

Full trial data from all of the companies have not yet been released, but will soon be published in peer-reviewed medical journals for public scrutiny.

We take a look at where some of the prominent vaccines are right now, including the status of the Johnson & Johnson (vaccine being developed by Janssen) trial. 

Drugmaker Moderna’s vaccine trial involved 30 000 volunteers and included high-risk groups such as the elderly. In this study, 15 000 volunteers received the real vaccine, while the rest received placebo injections. No serious side effects were reported in those who received jabs of the real vaccine.

READ: OPINION | Why an antidepressant could be used to treat Covid-19 

A commonly used drug called fluvoxamine was recently tested as a treatment for Covid-19 in the United States. The 152 patients enrolled in the trial had been confirmed to have Covid-19 using a PCR test, and had seen symptoms appear within the past seven days.

Patients who already required Covid-19 hospitalisation, or who had an underlying lung condition, congestive heart failure or other immune conditions, were excluded.

The study looked only at those who at the time had a relatively mild form of the disease.

Among these patients, the study found that taking fluvoxamine reduced the incidence of developing a serious Covid-19 condition over a 15-day period. None of the 80 patients treated with fluvoxamine deteriorated, whereas six (8.3%) of the 72 patients given a placebo saw their condition get worse.

Their symptoms included shortness of breath, pneumonia and reduced blood oxygen.

The second week of Covid-19 infection is when clinical deterioration is normally seen – which suggests fluvoxamine could be a useful tool in stopping mild Covid-19 from getting worse.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 796 472.

According to the latest update, 21 709 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 734 305 recoveries.

The National Department of Health has not yet disclosed the latest number of tests conducted.

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 64 293 447, while deaths were 1 488 321.

The United States had the most cases in the world - 13 861 243, as well as the most deaths - close to 272 500.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | A 22:00 curfew for SA's Covid-19 hotspots and new booze restrictions, NCCC recommends

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) has agreed that there should be a 22:00 curfew in Covid-19 hotspot areas across the country, that alcohol sales should be restricted to Monday to Thursday, and that pubs and taverns should be shut at 21:00, News24 understands from impeccable sources close to the discussions.

The NCCC met on Tuesday when it recommended that the consumption of alcohol be banned in public areas, such as beaches and parks, and that restaurants should be shut by 21:00 in areas where there are spikes in Covid-19 infections.

It further recommended that public gatherings in these hotspot areas should be limited to 100 people indoors and 250 outdoors, including for religious events, sources close to the meeting said.

News24 understands that those at the meeting on Tuesday agreed that there should be regionalised restrictions in place to curb the spread of the virus in hotspot areas, such as Nelson Mandela Bay and the Garden Route. The list of Covid-19 hotspot areas is not finalised, but the government has focused its attention on the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

For the rest of the country, it appears that Level 1 one of the nationwide lockdown will remain in place, according to sources.

Insiders said those at the meeting were told that Nelson Mandela Bay posed the biggest risk as hospitals were full – including private healthcare facilities.

Worse still, the country is expected to see an influx of people from Gauteng and the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape, posing a challenge for local authorities.

READ | Garden Route public events halted, venues to close due to Covid-19 surge

Large public events will be scrapped in some parts of the Western Cape in an attempt to control surging Covid-19 figures.

Events in the Garden Route will be prohibited until further notice, and public facilities and venues will be closed to the public, said Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning Anton Bredell.

"The region is seeing increases in Covid-19 infections. In addition, there is an expectation of large numbers of visitors over the next few weeks, which further increases the risk of infection. This requires drastic action which we're not afraid to take."

The George municipality has closed all sports facilities and public venues. All events in George have been cancelled and venues are unavailable for events. The Kannaland municipality has followed suit and closed all facilities, including town halls.

Municipal guidelines for camping facilities and venues catering to holidaymakers are also being formulated and enforcement operations to ensure compliance at taverns, fuel stations on major routes and mass transportation hubs will continue.

"The Covid pandemic is not a sprint. It is a marathon. We are all in this marathon together and if we all work together, more of us will reach the end of this pandemic and certainly much sooner. If we don't work together in the coming weeks, we may see the situation get increasingly worse," said Bredell.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | The UK just approved Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine — here's who will be vaccinated first

The Covid-19 vaccine developed by the US pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech was approved by the UK regulator on Wednesday - the first western country to give the green light to a coronavirus shot.

In a statement, the government said that the vaccine would be available within a week, and that care home residents and their carers would be first in line.

In total, the UK has ordered around 40 million doses of the two-shot vaccine, enough to immunize 20 million out of roughly 67 million people in the country.

The two doses are given 21 days apart, and immunity kicks in seven days after the second dose.

800,000 doses will arrive in the country next week from Belgium where Pfizer is producing the UK's vaccine supply, Matt Hancock, the UK's health secretary, told the BBC Wednesday. This means that 400,000 people will be vaccinated in the first wave of shots, he said.

"This will start small and ramp up," Hancock said. "The vast majority of vaccinations we expect to be in the new year."

READ | The US is averaging one Covid-19 death per minute, according to a global heath expert

The US is averaging one death from Covid-19 per minute, according to a global health expert who serves on an advisory panel under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The grim death rate was shared at a Tuesday meeting for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which operates under the CDC.

The federal advisory panel met Tuesday afternoon to discuss and vote on recommendations for the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. Beth Bell, a global health expert at the University of Washington who serves as the work group co-chair for the panel, put that death rate into the perspective of the three-hour meeting.

"There is an average of one covid death per minute right now," she said during the meeting.

"In the time it takes us to have this ACIP meeting 180 people will have died from Covid-19, so we are acting none too soon."

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

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