Coronavirus morning update: Details on KZN Covid tender deals, SA's rules on kids and masks

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 646 398.

According to the latest update, 15 378 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 574 587 recoveries.

So far, more than of 3.8 million tests have been conducted, with 20 713 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

The KwaZulu-Natal government paid R17 million of its total R2.1 billion expenditure on Covid-19 to companies for which it has no details, Premier Sihle Zikalala said on Thursday.

This emerged as the provincial government released its report on the owners and directors it paid around R2.1 billion to during the Covid-19 pandemic up to 31 August.

It also does not yet have the ownership details of companies which did business with municipalities because of different IT systems, but said this is a work in progress.

Zikalala said the point of releasing the report was not to be judgemental, but to get an understanding of how the money was spent and who benefitted, particularly in light of transformation goals.

Four companies which received R3 878 720 in total were also found to have not been on its database. One, called Bellanova, received R3.8 million, Contichem Stanger got R2 520, a Dr Mohamed R720 and Dis-Chem R480.

Zikalala said these would be further investigated and speculated that the Dis-Chem payment, for example, may have been a petty cash expense.

READ MORE | KwaZulu-Natal government names those who scored big with Covid-19 contracts

"No child aged 24 months or younger may be required to wear a face mask due to the associated risks", according to new rules for childcare centres published by social development minister Lindiwe Zulu late on Friday.

However, any child "aged two to five years must be encouraged to wear a face mask", albeit while "taking into account the child's age and developmental abilities".

The rules are specific to early childhood development (ECD) and after-school care centres that fall within the regulatory jurisdiction of the department of social development – and that puts them directly in conflict with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In guidance on children last updated on 21 August, the WHO advises that children under age five should, generally, not wear masks.

"This advice is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance," the body says.

If masks must be used for some reason, the WHO says, perhaps because children will be in close contact with someone who is ill, their use should be closely monitored. More closely than a teacher in an ECD centre can manage.

READ MORE | Children aged 2 to 5 ‘must be encouraged’ to wear masks, new SA rules say. The WHO disagrees.

From violence at home during school closures, to no contact with teachers, and having difficulty accessing health services - these are just some of the hardships children from poorer backgrounds have endured since the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa in March.

These were some of the findings revealed in a global survey released by non-profit organisation Save the Children on Thursday.

The survey, entitled Protect A Generation, found the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the education of children, especially those from poorer backgrounds - widening the gap between rich and poor.

Research was conducted in 46 countries and resulted in the largest and most comprehensive survey of children and families during the pandemic to date, with 31 683 parents and caregivers and 13 477 children aged 11-17 years old participating.

During the first six months of the pandemic, the most vulnerable children have had limited or no access to education, healthcare, food, and have suffered the greatest protection risks.

The survey found that 93% of households that lost income due to Covid-19 had reported difficulties accessing healthcare facilities.

The reported rate of violence at homes during school closures was 17%, compared to eight percent when children attended school, the organisation said in a statement.

READ MORE | Survey shows home violence, no school causes suffering, loss for poor children during Covid-19

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 Friday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 28 million, while deaths were slightly over 910 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - over 6.4 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 192 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

AstraZeneca's CEO said Thursday that the company's coronavirus vaccine could still be available by the end of this year or early next year, even after the drugmaker was forced to halt critical trials this week.

It "is still feasible" that AstraZeneca's vaccine, which it is developing with Oxford University, will be ready by the end of the year, CEO Pascal Soriot said — but it depends on when, and whether, the suspended study is allowed to restart.

AstraZeneca's late-stage coronavirus vaccine trials were put on hold following a suspected adverse reaction in a participant. An independent board of experts is evaluating the volunteer who fell ill, and that evaluation will determine whether the trial should be allowed to resume.

Soriot could not say when the trial would resume, but said that AstraZeneca is "on track for having a set of data that we would submit before the end of the year."

"We could still have a vaccine by the end of this year, early next year," he told reporters at an event hosted by Tortoise Media Thursday morning. He added that the company aims to have the manufacturing capacity to distribute the vaccine worldwide by early next year.

Soriot did not disclose any details about the nature of the illness. When asked if the participant had an inflammation of the spinal cord, Soriot replied, "We don't know what the final diagnosis is." Citing a person familiar with the situation, The New York Times reported that the participant had received a diagnosis of transverse myelitis, an inflammatory condition that affects the spinal cord and is often associated with viral infections.

READ MORE | AstraZeneca says its Covid-19 vaccine could still be available this year, after it paused trial

The number of coronavirus infections is now doubling every week in England according to a study commissioned by the UK government, which found the so-called 'R' rate of infection has now risen to 1.7.

Scientists from Imperial College London tested 150,000 people between 22 August and 7 September and found the infection rate had gradually increased from its low-point in June.

They found that the number of coronavirus cases in England is now doubling every 7.7 days with the highest rate of infection among young adults between 18-25.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been encouraging British people to return to their offices in recent weeks.

However, scientists reported that the rise in infections may have been caused by "holiday travel, return to work, or a more general increase in the number and transmission potential of social interactions."

Overall the total number of estimated infections remains low with just 0.13% of those randomly tested, being found positive. Of these, 65% demonstrated no symptoms of COVID-19 either at the time of the test or in the preceding week.

READ MORE | Coronavirus cases are now doubling in England every week as the 'R' rate reaches 1.7

LATEST RESEARCH

As the world battles Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, people are searching for factual information that could help save lives. But what happens when misinformation gains momentum and has a huge impact because credible sources start propagating it?

According to UOC doctoral student Sergi Xaudiera and Ana Sofía Cardenal, a researcher at the Faculty of Law and Political Science, it can have deadly consequences.

Their research, published in the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review, centres on misinformation during emergency situations, and hones in on a tweet by the French Health Minister, Olivier Verán, during March, when Europe was experiencing the early stages of the pandemic.

Verán advised patients with Covid-19 not to take ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug with analgesic and antipyretic properties, warning that it could lead to mortality among Covid-19 patients.

Health24 reported on Verán’s tweet, wherein the Minister stated that anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, can be "an aggravating factor" in Covid-19 infection. After his tweet was posted, panic ensued and discussions among medical experts quickly followed, with the World Health Organization (WHO) later tweeting that they do not advise against the use of the medication.

This false news about ibuprofen initially started as a WhatsApp voice message in Germany, then made it onto the Minister’s Twitter account, and, over a period of two weeks, spread to France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Italy.

READ MORE | Ibuprofen and Covid-19: How credible sources can drive misinformation during a pandemic

The process of scientists trying to understand how the coronavirus operates has been likened to detectives investigating a crime. To better understand the perpetrator, they first had to uncover its modus operandi in the human body, i.e. which cells it targets, and why.

These hotspots have recently been mapped in a study published in Cell Reports, where 28 SARS-CoV-2 and coronavirus-associated receptors and factors (SCARFS) were investigated as "accomplices" to the virus, serving as gateways for infection into various organ cells.

Let's start with cause of death. Post-mortems confirm that victims had major lung damage inflicted by Covid-19-induced pneumonia. It also wreaks havoc on the heart, kidney, liver and gastrointestinal tract, and has been proven to have some neurological impact on the brain.

"What causes the wide range of clinical phenotypes observed in people infected with SARS-CoV-2 is not yet understood," write the investigative scientists.

"It remains unclear which of these pathologies are caused by direct infection of the organs affected or indirect effects mediated by systemic inflammatory responses or comorbidities. A prerequisite to resolving these questions is to gain a better understanding of the tropism of the virus, i.e. which tissues and cell types are permissive to SARS-CoV-2 infection."

READ MORE |Mapping Covid-19's tracks as it attacks the body

As Covid-19 spreads and masks become mandatory in many more parts of the world, there have been plenty of debates about which types of masks are most effective. The valve mask, for example, provides comfort, but it doesn’t protect other people against droplets that escape through the vents. Some prefer masks with elastic bands that loop around the ears, while others prefer simple cotton buffs.

Research has shown that some masks are more effective than others, but even the simplest single-layer cotton mask can decrease the amount of droplets expelled. Even though we theoretically understand this, masks are, however, still a bit of a struggle for some.

Now, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a new mask to incorporate protection and comfort – and are providing plans so that people can make it themselves.

The full research is published in The Journal of the Textile Institute, and according to a press release, the modular Georgia Tech mask combines a barrier filtration material with stretchable fabric to provide a comforting fit while staying in place.

The prototypes have hook and eye fasteners on the back to keep the masks secure. There is also a pocket for an additional filter to add protection. The researchers found that even after 20 washes, the prototype didn’t shrink or lose its shape.

READ MORE | Researchers redesign the face mask to improve both comfort and protection

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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