Coronavirus morning recap: WC issues 'hotspot alert' for Garden Route, and valve masks ineffective

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Covid-19: Two of the vaccine front runners have already reported promising evidence - so what now?

Drugmaker Moderna announced on Monday that its Covid-19 vaccine candidate, named mRNA-1273, was 94.5% effective, based on an early look at the results from its 30 000-person ongoing clinical trial.

The news arrived not long after similar results announced by Pfizer last week, and add to growing confidence that vaccines will help fight the pandemic and might be the best chance for the world to return to normal.

Participants in the trial were randomly given a two-dose regimen of either Moderna's experimental shot or placebo (saltwater) injections. The company's announcement states that their first interim analysis was based on the first 95 participants to develop Covid-19.

According to the data, there were 11 cases of severe Covid-19 in the trial, but none happened in participants who were immunised.

Moderna says its next step is to seek regulatory approval in the coming weeks for the use of the vaccine in the US. It expects to have 20 million doses available in the country and "remains on track to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021".

What scientists are saying

Professor Thomas Scriba, deputy director of immunology and laboratory director at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town, told Health24 Moderna's results are very similar to that of Pfizer's, and echoed his previous comments on the latter's vaccine candidate.

"This is clearly an important and very positive step in a chain of many steps that need to be taken before vaccine vials are available in pharmacies and clinics.

"It is great that two vaccine candidates have shown such high levels of efficacy in interim analyses because the burden of proof from two independent sources is growing. Of course, the same limitations raised in my previous comments still stand – these are results shared is a press statement from a very short period after vaccination.

READ | Moderna vaccine results 'stunningly impressive', says Anthony Fauci

The United States' top infectious disease scientist on Monday hailed early results from Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine trial as"stunningly impressive", calling the findings an emphatic validation of experimental mRNA technology that some had doubted.

"I must admit that I would have been satisfied with 70% or at the most 75% efficacy," Dr Anthony Fauci said.

"The idea that we have a 94.5% effective vaccine is stunningly impressive. It is really a spectacular result that I don't think anybody had anticipated would be this good."

Fauci leads the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which began co-developing the vaccine with the Us biotech company in January, shortly after China shared the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus.

The vaccine is based on a relatively new technology that uses a synthetic version of a molecule called "messenger RNA" to hack into human cells, and effectively turn them into vaccine-making factories.

No vaccine based on this platform has ever been approved.

"There were many people who had reservations about using something that had not been tried and true over the years; in fact, some people even criticised us for that," said Fauci.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought in its wake the compulsory use of face masks as they help to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Masks with exhalation valves, however, do not slow the spread of the virus, a researcher from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has found.

The videos, which show airflow patterns through masks with and without exhalation valves, were created by NIST research engineer Matthew Staymates and were published, along with an accompanying research article, in the journal Physics of Fluids.

"When you compare the videos side by side, the difference is striking," Staymates said in a news release by NIST.

"These videos show how the valves allow air to leave the mask without filtering it, which defeats the purpose of the mask."

What is the purpose of masks with exhalation valves?

Exhalation valves make breathing more comfortable for the wearer. This type of mask is commonly worn by construction workers exposed to huge amounts of dust, or by hospital workers.

However, in the context of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to wear face masks that protect people other than the wearer. This is especially important for those who don’t display symptoms, as studies have consistently shown how asymptomatic cases are driving the spread of the virus.

"I don't wear a mask to protect myself. I wear it to protect my neighbour, because I might be asymptomatic and spread the virus without even knowing it," Staymates said. "But if I'm wearing a mask with a valve on it, I'm not helping."

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 754 256.

According to the latest update, 20 432 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 696 820 recoveries.

So far, more than 5.1 million tests have been conducted, with 17 930 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

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

Early on Wednesday morning, positive cases worldwide exceeded 55.3 million, while deaths were over 1.3 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 11.2 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 248 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | Covid-19: Western Cape issues 'hotspot alert' for Garden Route

The Western Cape government has issued an "urgent hotspot alert" after a rapid increase in the number of Covid-19 cases along the popular Garden Route.

According to Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, this spike was the main contributor to the notable growth of active cases in the Western Cape.

"Specifically, we are concerned about the increasing number of cases in George, Knysna and Bitou," said Winde.

"George, which currently has 628 active cases, has the highest number of active cases in the province," he added.

Over the past weekend, the province saw

  • 160 new cases in George
  • 145 new cases in Knysna/Bitou
  • 41 new cases in Mossel Bay
  • 7 new cases in Hessequa

Due to the increasing number of positive cases, hospitalisations were also on the rise.

Winde said that hospitals still had sufficient capacity to cope with the surge in cases, however, he urged people to take responsibility to ensure that the spread of the virus was contained.

The hotspot team for the Garden Route increased surveillance through screening and testing.

"We are also paying special attention to vulnerable groups, including old age homes," added Winde.

READ | Court rules against Santam in landmark Covid-19 insurance case

The High Court has found in favour of Ma-Afrika Hotels and Stellenbosch Kitchens against insurance giant Santam, in a case over business interruption insurance during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The two businesses had joined up with Insurance Claims Africa in litigation against Santam earlier this year.

ICA is a public loss adjustment company that has been representing over 750 tourism and hospitality businesses in a bid to get insurers to pay up business interruption claims.

In a 42-page judgment handed down in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday afternoon, the court found that Santam was liable to pay for business interruption losses related to the Covid-19 lockdown. It also ordered the insurer to pay Ma-Afrika for the impact over the policy period of 18months and that it should pay Ma-Afrika's legal costs.

It cited similar Covid-19 related cases from all over the world, including the United Kingdom and the United States.

At the heart of the case lay Santam's argument that Covid-19 is not a notifiable disease. It rejected lockdown claims from Stellenbosch Kitchen and Ma-Afrika because whether or not there were Covid-19 cases within the radius the insurer covers, the businesses would have been forced to suspend trade, the insurer said in its court papers.

The judgment noted that Santam had argued the policies "insured loss, subject to their terms, not economic hardship as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic".

But when the case was heard in September, lawyers for Ma-Afrika accused Santam of hiding behind semantics.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Putin touts third vaccine as BRICS presidents call for more collaboration in the wake of Covid-19

Russia has a third vaccine against Covid-19 and India and China are prepared to manufacture it, according to its president Vladimir Putin.

Putin was delivering the opening address at the 12 BRICS Summit, hosted by Russia and held virtually, on Tuesday.

Presidents of member states – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africawere also in attendance. The multilateral organisation was established in 2009.

Putin acknowledged the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on economies, before he punted the Russian vaccine – Sputnik V.

According to a BBC report, trials show it may be 92% effective.

Reuters recently reported that Israel is in discussions to purchase the vaccine.Putin said the Russian vaccine is "active and safe", the aim is to start mass production and companies in China and India are open to manufacturing it, not only for domestic consumption but also to export it.

"We have a second vaccine registered against Covid-19 and a third one in the pipeline," he said.

In his address, China's president Xi Jinping noted that the pandemic "wreaked havoc" in many places. He explained that international cooperation was required to tackle it.

He said China was working with Russian and Brazil partners on phase three clinical trials and is willing to have similar partnerships with South Africa and India.

He said China had joined the COVAX Facility - a global effort to promote access to Covid-19 tools – and would actively consider providing vaccines to BRICS countries, where there is a need.He also proposed a BRICS symposium on traditional medicine – as a response to Covid-19.

READ | Sweden’s prime minister says tougher Covid-19 restrictions the ‘new norm' as cases, deaths soar

Sweden's prime minister announced Monday stricter coronavirus measures to dampen surging Covid-19 cases and deaths in the country.

Stefan Löfven told a press conference that the limit on public gatherings would be cut from 50 people to eight. The ban applies to public events such as concerts, performances, and sports matches.

Restaurants will stay open, but can only allow a maximum of eight diners per table.

Schools, workplaces, and private gatherings don't fall under the ban. Löfven said "we can't regulate every social gathering" but urged Swedes to stick to the new limit.

"It is a clear and sharp signal to every person in our country as to what applies in the future. Don't go to the gym, don't go to the library, don't have dinner out, don't have parties — cancel!" Lofven said, as he warned: "It's going to get worse."

The change would come into effect on November 24 and apply for four weeks, Löfven said.

He added that tougher restrictions were the "new norm for the entire society".

On Friday, Sweden reported 5,990 cases of Covid-19 — its highest number of new cases so far, per The Guardian. The total number of cases stand at 177,355, whilst deaths are at 6,164, according to the World Health Organisation.

"Do your duty and take responsibility for stopping the spread of the virus," Löfven said. "In the spring we saw large compliance. It was enough to have recommendations to get most people to keep their distance and cancel their plans. Now there is less compliance.

"Now more of a ban is needed to bring down the curve of the number infected," he added.

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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