Coronavirus morning recap: Vaccine hesitancy, 'silent' mutations, and worrying situation in Europe

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ MORE | Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy: Beliefs about origins of virus play a big role

Creating safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines and making them available worldwide in 2021 is only half the battle. Even if these vaccines become available, they will only work to protect the population if enough people are immunised. The other half of the battle is going to be to get the majority of the global population to accept these vaccines.

Findings from a study by UCL and Dokuz Eylul University in Turkey show that more than a third of people (34%) in Turkey and a sixth of people (17%) in the UK are "hesitant" about a Covid-19 vaccine.

The findings are based on the responses of over 5 000 participants in Turkey and the UK about their willingness to be vaccinated against Covid-19, and included discussions around their beliefs about the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 disease.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

The researchers examined multiple factors linked to the acceptance of a Covid-19 vaccine, with one of the key factors in the level of vaccine acceptance being the study participants' beliefs about the origin of the virus.

Odds of vaccine acceptance were found to be 26% higher in Turkey, and 63% higher in the UK, if a participant believed in the natural origin of the virus.

READ MORE | 'Silent' mutations gave Covid-19 virus an evolutionary edge

Understanding the features of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is crucial for predicting the future, and in a recent study, scientists may have come one step closer.

According to Duke University (DU) researchers, a number of “silent” mutations in the roughly 30 000 letters of the virus’s genetic code may have given it an advantage and caused it to thrive in the human population after crossing over from bats and other wild animals.

"We're trying to figure out what made this virus so unique," said lead author Alejandro Berrio, a postdoctoral associate in biologist Greg Wray's lab at DU.

In their paper, they explain how the subtle changes, or mutations, influenced how the virus unfolded its RNA molecules within human cells.

For their study, the researchers wanted to identify adaptive changes that occurred in the SARS-CoV-2 genome in humans, but not in closely related coronaviruses found in bats and pangolins.

The genome can be simply defined as the virus’s hereditary information, which is made up of either DNA or RNA. The new coronavirus has a single-stranded RNA genome.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 712 412.

According to the latest update, 18 891 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 643 523 recoveries.

So far, more than 4.65 million tests have been conducted, with 23 445 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

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

Early on Saturday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 42.07 million, while deaths were more than 1.14 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 8.48 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 224 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | Covid-19: Most SA universities aim to complete academic year in 2021, education committee hears

Only 10 of South Africa's 26 universities are aiming to complete the academic year before the end of the 2020 calendar year.

Four of the 26 universities are expected to end the second semester in January 2021, seven in the following month, and the remaining five are expected to complete the academic year by March.

This emerged when Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande and his senior officials had a virtual meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education on Friday.

"As we grapple with the completion of the year, we have to look at the role of post-school education and training in our economic recovery. We are not just saving the 2020 academic year, for its own sake, we are saving it for our economy because these are our future skills," Nzimande said.

Diane Parker, deputy director-general for university education, said some universities lost time at the beginning of the 2020 academic year, before the country went into lockdown.

"Universities that had already developed online teaching and learning capacity were able to transition to an online modality more rapidly. Universities have extended teaching and learning time to more effectively support students who could not be fully engaged during the lockdown," she said.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Too many countries in 'exponential' virus surge: WHO

The northern hemisphere is facing a crucial moment in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organisation said Friday, with too many countries witnessing an exponential increase in coronavirus cases.

"The next few months are going to be very tough and some countries are on a dangerous track," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference.

"Too many countries are seeing an exponential increase in Covid-19 cases and that is now leading to hospitals and intensive care units running close to or above capacity - and we're still only in October.

"We urge leaders to take immediate action to prevent further unnecessary deaths."

The novel coronavirus has infected nearly 42 million people and killed at least 1.1 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's Covid-19 technical lead, said the situation was "very worrying" in Europe, which clocked up more than half the new cases registered in the world over the last 24 hours.

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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