Coronavirus morning update: Concerns over schools plan, top companies get UIF money, and 'Covid toes'

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 7 808.

According to the latest update, 153 deaths have been recorded in the country.

So far, 279 379 tests have been conducted - with more than 11 300 new tests conducted.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Equal Education (EE) high school members and teachers have raised concerns about the impact the national Covid-19 lockdown has had on them and their fears around the phased re-opening of schools. 

The movement said while it was relieved schools would be re-opening at a later stage, it believed plans by the Department of Basic Education were a cause for concern and had caused more confusion. 

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has outlined the department's plans about recovering the academic year after schools closed on 18 March following President Cyril Ramaphosa's declaration of a national state of disaster. 

Motshekga said the department would use the month of May to ensure schools were safe and compliant with Covid-19 regulations before allowing for the return of teachers and pupils

READ MORE | Pupils, teachers voice fears, concerns about proposed phased re-opening of schools

This week, government gazetted new regulations for vehicle owners and public transport during the latest phase of the national lockdown.

The regulations, released on Monday, specified that no vehicles – either private or public transport – were allowed on the roads outside of 05:00 to 20:00, with a grace period of an hour, "to complete a journey", to 21:00.

But on Wednesday, transport minister Fikile Mbalula gazetted a change to that regulation. Now, public transport - which includes minibus taxis - can operate from 05:00 to 19:00 only, with no mention of a grace period. Instead "the driver must ensure that the drop off is completed by 19:00."

The section governing the permitted times of private vehicles on the road – a curious inclusion in regulations about public transport in the first place – has been deleted by the same amendment. This presumably means that private car owners can be on the road only till 20:00, when the national curfew starts.

Public transport will only be allowed outside of these hours if it is a chartered service for Level 4 workers, which has been arranged by an employer. The transport owners will have to present documentation to confirm this.

READ MORE | Govt has changed the rules on when vehicles are allowed on the road

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has released an online list of all the employers which have received a special grant to pay their staff.

Prominent companies have already received money, including Sasol, Mr Price Group, Damelin, a number of Bidvest businesses, some Protea hotels and Engen service stations, as well as individual Spur, Wimpy and McDonald’s restaurants.

Hundreds of bottle stores and churches have also received payouts, while gyms, golf clubs and funeral parlours feature prominently on the list. More than two dozen taxidermy businesses have  also benefited

As part of the Covid-19 Temporary Relief scheme (TERS), workers who are put on leave, have been laid off temporarily or whose employers can’t afford to pay their full salaries are entitled to a special payout from the UIF. The maximum a worker will get is R6 730 a month (if you earn more than R17 700) – while the minimum amount is R3 500.

READ MORE | Top SA companies received UIF crisis money – how to check if your employer got any

SA Breweries (SAB) – owner of Castle Lager, Hansa, and Black Label – says it may be forced to destroy more than 130 million litres of beer if it is not allowed to transport the brew to its depots.

The transport of alcohol – apart from alcohol for export – is currently illegal under South Africa’s lockdown regulations. All sale of alcohol is also prohibited.

SAB has not been brewing since March 23rd, nor has it or transported beer since the start of the hard Covid-19 lockdown on March 27th.

But as part of “the orderly wind down” of its business during lockdown, a small group of staff have been fermenting and bottling alcohol. SAB is not legally allowed to store brewed beer at its brewery facilities above a certain capacity, which it has now reached.

Currently, SAB has around 132 million litres of beer – roughly the equivalent of 400 million bottles of beer – sitting in its tanks, which it can’t bottle due to the restrictions on alcohol capacity at its breweries.

READ MORE | SAB may be forced to destroy 400 million bottles of beer

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Cases update:

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

Late on Wednesday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 3.7 million, while deaths were more than 261 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1.2 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 72 500.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

A top scientist who advised British leaders on coronavirus lockdown measures said on Tuesday he had resigned from a key government panel after admitting to breaking the country's rules on social distancing.

Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist on the advisory team helping the UK coordinate its pandemic response, stepped down following media reports that he had allowed a woman to visit him at home.

"I accept I made an error of judgement and took the wrong course of action," he said.

"I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic."

READ MORE | UK scientist behind lockdown quits after breaking rules

LATEST RESEARCH

When South Africa moved to Level 4 restrictions on 1 May 2020, masses of people gathered outside to enjoy a bit of exercise and fresh air – as we are  now allowed to exercise outdoors between 06:00 and 09:00.

Soon, however, running and neighbourhood community groups on social media expressed the same concern: too many people too close to each other, with many of them not covering their mouths and noses with buffs or masks.

Criticism of the regulation to cover one's mouth and nose came fast – as many people experience discomfort and laboured breathing when running with a mask.

However, even though it might be uncomfortable at first, it is vitally important that we stick to this rule and keep our distance from fellow runners. It's for our own protection.

READ MORE | Why it's even more important to distance while running – the danger is your 'breath cloud'

The virus that causes Covid-19 typically strikes the lungs with full force, but new research shows it can also cause frostbite-like patches on the hands and toes, and rashes on the body.

The condition has recently been dubbed "Covid toes". Fortunately, it isn't serious and the lesions usually disappear on their own, said Dr Esther Freeman, director of Global Health Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"One of the more surprising findings in this epidemic has been the lesions that we're seeing on people's toes and hands," she said.

Freeman noted that Covid toes aren't caused by exposure to cold, as is frostbite or chilblains. Rather it seems to be an inflammation of the circulatory system that shows up as a skin rash.

READ MORE | More symptoms of coronavirus: 'Covid toes' and skin rashes

Like many other countries, South Africa is struggling to access adequate testing materials to scale up Covid-19 testing. 

A key challenge faced by laboratories in South Africa and elsewhere is that most of our diagnostic infrastructure requires the use of proprietary test materials – including reagents, consumables and cartridges. This largely prevents laboratories from making their own test materials or procuring test materials from sources other than the diagnostic machine’s manufacturer. 

South Africa’s National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) is currently using diagnostic machines produced by several companies to diagnose Covid-19. But the country is facing challenges in securing an adequate supply of reagents and consumables for running these tests. The NHLS has also indicated that it will increase its use of the company Cepheid’s GeneXpert machines for testing as test cartridges become available. 

Yet, despite being the first country to broadly roll out GeneXpert diagnostic machines, and having been a crucial location for the trialling of the machines, South Africa is struggling to access adequate Covid-19 test cartridges from Cepheid. 

READ MORE | Covid-19: Behind SA’s shortages of test materials

The global lockdown caused by Covid-19 risks a "devastating" surge in tuberculosis cases, with nearly 1.4 million additional deaths from the world's biggest infectious killer by 2025, new research showed on Wednesday.

TB, a bacterial infection that normally attacks patients' lungs, is largely treatable yet still infects an estimated 10 million people every year.

In 2018, it killed around 1.5 million people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), including more than 200 000 children.

Since effective medication exists, the world's TB response is centred on testing and treating as many patients as possible.

READ MORE | Covid-19 lockdown risks 1.4 million extra TB deaths – study

People all over the globe who've recovered from the new coronavirus want to know the same thing: Am I immune, at least for a while? A new study of common coronaviruses is not exactly reassuring.

Researchers found it was "not uncommon" for people with run-of-the-mill coronaviruses (not the one that causes Covid-19) to have a repeat infection within a year. Of 86 New York City residents infected with those coronaviruses, 12 tested positive for the same bug again.

A big caveat is, the study looked only at the four coronaviruses that are endemic in humans – the kinds that cause nothing worse than cold symptoms.

"They're kind of wimpy," said researcher Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. "People rarely have to go to the doctor for these infections."

READ MORE | Can survivors get reinfected with coronavirus?

Because people who receive a donor kidney are often on immune-suppressing medications, they're at extremely high risk of dying if Covid-19 strikes, a new report warns.

The study, from doctors at Montefiore Medical Center in hard-hit New York City, looked at outcomes for 36 kidney transplant patients diagnosed with Covid-19 between 16 March and 1 April.

Nearly a third of these patients died from their infection with the new coronavirus, and in most cases, Covid-19 worsened rapidly, according to a team of Montefiore physicians led by Dr Enver Akalin.

Thirty-nine percent of patients needed to be put on a mechanical ventilator, and nearly two-thirds (64%) of those ventilated patients died.

READ MORE | Kidney transplant patients at high risk of fatal Covid-19

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.

READ MORE: Coronavirus 101 

Image credit: Getty Images
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