Coronavirus morning update: Damning findings on Covid relief funding, and new rules for gyms

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WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 630 595.

According to the latest update, 14 389 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 553 456 recoveries.

So far, a total of more than3.72 million tests have been conducted, with 21 313 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu has released damning findings on Covid-19 relief funding which details the extent of the rot surrounding personal protective equipment (PPE) tender procurement processes.

Makwetu briefed the media on Wednesday and detailed how contracts in the R22.4 billion PPE budget has been misappropriated.

His office found clear signs of overpricing, unfair processes and potential fraud in government procurement.

Makwetu said pre-existing deficiencies in the supply chain processes of government were amplified by the introduction of emergency procurement processes allowed for PPE.

"Based on what was audited to date, there are clear signs of overpricing, unfair processes, potential fraud and supply chain management legislation being sidestepped. In addition, delays in the delivery of personal protective equipment and quality concerns could have been avoided through better planning and management of suppliers."

Through his investigation, he identified that unreliable methods were used to determine the number of employees and pupils at schools and the need for PPE for support staff in schools was not always considered.

READ MORE | Clear signs of overpricing, unfair processes, potential fraud in PPE tenders - AG report reveals

The national health department has launched the Covid Alert SA app, which informs people if they have been in contact with someone who has Covid-19.

President Cyril Ramaphosa called the app, which was launched on Wednesday, a "powerful tool to support our digital contact tracing efforts".

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said: "Coronavirus has disrupted all of our lives. The sooner we can defeat the virus, the sooner our economy will recover and the sooner our lives can return to normal.

"We all need to play our part in preventing the second wave to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. That is why today we are launching the powerful new tool that will help us to contain the coronavirus and prevent a second wave of infections."

The Covid Alert SA app uses advanced Bluetooth technology.

READ MORE | How health dept's new app will assist the fight against Covid-19

The abuse in the spending of emergency relief funds related to Covid-19 procurement made a bad situation in government worse.

Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu has warned of significant risks that point to internal deficiencies in government systems as well as the exposure to an external risk to state funds.

Makwetu released his audit report on Covid-19 funding on Wednesday which raised red flags on how the R147.4 billion emergency budget had been misappropriated.

He said a heightened level of oversight would be required as more programmes were rolled out.

Makwetu also called on oversight structures to use his report to direct their oversight actions and call accounting officers and authorities as well as executive authorities to account for the implementation of the initiatives related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the management of the funds entrusted to them.

"This report should become the baseline for the interrogation by oversight on how the funds entrusted for the Covid-19 response were used."

READ MORE | Bad situation made worse: AG says govt deficiencies compromised Covid-19 tenders

Gymgoers now don’t have to wear a mask while they do "vigorous" exercise, according to new government regulations that have been gazetted.

The regulations state that while you must wear a mask when you enter a gym, it’s not necessary when you do “vigorous activity” - provided that a distance of two metres apart is maintained.

According to Virgin Active, "vigorous" or "high intensity" exercise intensity is defined as approximately 70% to 85% of a person’s maximum heart rate. It would apply to treadmills and exercis bikes, as well as to group classes.

Since July, South Africans are allowed “vigorous exercise” in a public place outside without a mask, if they stay at least three metres away from any other person.

According to the new regulations, gyms are still only allowed 50 persons at a time, a ruled that has caused much unhappiness in the sector.

READ MORE | There are new rules for going to the gym - including when you must wear a mask

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.

Early on Thursday morning, positive cases worldwide were more than 25.86 million, while deaths were more than 859 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 6.1 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 185 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Six months after the coronavirus arrived in Pakistan, the country appears to have dodged the worst of the pandemic, baffling health experts and dampening fears its crowded urban areas and ramshackle hospitals will be overrun.

Following an initial surge, the number of infections has plummeted in recent weeks, with Covid-19 deaths hovering in the single digits each day, while neighbouring India tallies hundreds of fatalities.

Pakistan has a long history of failing to contain myriad infectious diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and hepatitis, while successive governments have underfunded its healthcare sector for decades.

Added to that, many Pakistanis live in crowded, multi-generational homes or packed apartment buildings that favour rampant virus transmission.

"No one has been able to explain this decline... We don't have any concrete explanation," said Salman Haseeb, a doctor at Services Hospital in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistanis have proposed numerous hypotheses for their country's seeming ability to weather the pandemic, crediting everything from the young population and the hot and humid climate to unproven claims of natural immunity.

Its median age is only 22 and the coronavirus is known to disproportionately impact older people with prior health complications.

READ MORE | Pakistan puzzles health experts as virus cases drop

LATEST RESEARCH

"Things will get back to normal once we develop a vaccine."

This mantra has been repeated over and over again by governments and individuals – science's golden ticket out of the global pandemic and back to familiarity. But what if we don't find a vaccine soon – or never?

"We invest in 'the vaccine' because we want it all to go away and for life to get back to normal – whatever normal might have been – and that's not going to happen," says Professor Lenore Manderson, an expert in public health and medical anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand, who is stuck in Australia where she's an adjunct professor at Monash University.

"What we are doing now is paying the price for being a highly urbanised, highly developed society with a range of problems in daily life and, in a way, it is a rehearsal for other problems in the future."

Manderson believes the current version of the virus will be around for 18 months without an effective vaccine, after which infection rates will start to decrease, with lower-level strains still circulating among the population.

On the other hand, director of the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa, Professor Robert Wilkinson, remains optimistic about a partially effective vaccine being developed by the multiplicity approach that's been adopted worldwide.

READ MORE | What if we don't find a vaccine for Covid-19?

Scientists have been trying to make sense of data on the role children play in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, since the start of the pandemic.

A growing body of evidence suggests that children may play a larger role in transmission than previously thought.

To add to this evidence, a recent study by scientists at Duke University School of Medicine found that infected primary school children could be hard to spot.

Based on their findings, the researchers recommend screening strategies that are in place in schools and daycare centre should focus on age-related differences in symptoms.

The study was published in preprint server medRxiv and has not yet been peer-reviewed.

For their study, the team looked at 382 children and young adults under the age of 21 who had come into close contact with a person infected with the virus.

Of the 382 children, 293 (77%) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 either before or during the study.

READ MORE | Why primary school kids infected with the Covid-19 virus may be hard to spot, according to a study

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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