Coronavirus morning update: Latest on cigarettes, schools warned, and how travel bans saved lives

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 8 232.

The Western Cape has by far the most cases in the country, as it edges closer to 4 000 - with 3 994 total cases.

According to the latest update, 161 deaths have been recorded in the country.

So far, 292 153 tests have been conducted - more than 12 700 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Government has formally indicated that it will oppose a far-reaching court challenge to the lockdown cigarette sales ban – and has also made it clear that it will not hand over minutes of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) discussions regarding the ban because they are "classified".

The Presidency has confirmed to News24 that cigarette companies are now allowed to manufacture and export tobacco products to other countries – but appear to be adamant that the ban on local sales must remain in place.

"Manufacture and export of cigarettes is already allowed in the regulations and not tailored for any company," Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko told News24.

"Government's overriding objective is to save lives by enhancing adherence to the lockdown regulations. We are not making any morality judgements on cigarettes, hence manufacture and export is allowed as part of resumption of economic activity".

READ MORE | Government refuses to show minutes of cigarette ban U-turn, says it's ‘classified’

The Department of Basic Education has warned all schools against reopening prematurely.

The department said it was aware of some independent, private and public schools that were already preparing to reopen much earlier than required.

Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said some schools had even received pupils ahead of the schedule announced by Minister Angie Motshekga.

"In some schools, teachers have already been reporting for duty and parents' meetings have been held where plans were announced to have learners back in school in May. The premature reopening of schools is not permitted, as the department is still finalising coronavirus school compliance protocols.

"The uniform standards will be applicable in schools as part of the measures put in place to protect pupils and teachers, reduce infection and save the academic year.

"Regulations were published on 29 April, in terms of the Disaster Management Act which listed education services under Level 4, as permitted on a date and schedule yet to be announced to direct when schools may reopen during Level 4," said Mhlanga.

READ MORE | Opening of schools too soon is not permitted, warns education dept

As of Thursday night South Africans can move house again, as long as the country does not go back up to Alert Level 5.

Under regulations published by cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, people and their household effects may move around South Africa on a once-off basis – even across provincial lines.

But there are terms and conditions – including that any move must happen by 7 June.

The rules are intended to allow people to move when they have entered a new lease agreement, either before or during lockdown, or where they have bought new homes and the transfer of the property has already gone through.

READ MORE | You can now move house under Level 4 – but only until 7 June

Uber Eats now delivers books from Exclusive Books. The food delivery service made the announcement on Thursday. The chain's full range of books will be available, and delivery is free for the month of May.

"We've been working hard to expand our options on Uber Eats," says the platform's South African general manager, Ailyssa Pretorius.

"Great books are just as essential as great meals, something people will want at their fingertips in future."

Apart from food deliveries during the lockdown, Uber Eats also delivers other essentials such as supplies from pharmacies, snack and nappies.

Book and stationery stores opened their doors on Friday, 1 May, as the country entered into Level 4 of the national lockdown.

READ MORE | You can now order from Exclusive Books on Uber Eats

In mid-March, Nelisa Jonas attended the funeral of a retired nurse in KwaDwesi township in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape. Soon after, a number of Covid-19 infections in Nelson Mandela Bay were traced back to this funeral. Since Jonas went to the funeral, she had to get tested.

Jonas told a local radio station that she lived in fear after her name was linked to the funeral on social media. She said on social media people were cautioned to stay away from her because she either tested positive or she was refusing to be tested.

Jonas said when she saw messages from the Department of Health encouraging those who had been at the funeral to get tested, she got tested at Motherwell Health Care Centre. Before she received her results, she says her name was already circulating on social media.

"The Department informed me that I tested negative and no one is taking responsibility on how my name landed up on social media. The community had not taken the news well and people are not comfortable with having me around because they believe I will pass on the virus to them," Jonas said.

READ MORE | Covid-19: The battle against stigma in the Eastern Cape

On 31 March 2020 the Free State province reported its first Covid-19 death, and South Africa’s third.

The man who died was 85-year-old John Hlangeni. Whether he was the first or the third, to his family Hlangeni was more than just another Covid-19 statistic. When Spotlight recently spoke to his family members, their grief was still fresh. Hlangeni’s son, Gopolang Hlangeni, says his father was an avid reader who enjoyed telling stories. “He loved spending time with his great-grandchildren and watching wrestling with them on TV.

He was a soft man who enjoyed spending his time doing the Lord’s work. My father was a pastor at the Global Reconciliation Church and a respected man in his community. ”The family believes Hlangeni would still be alive if he had initially been tested for the virus and not just screened. Screening refers to checking for Covid-19 symptoms such as fever and dry cough, while testing refers to taking swabs from inside the mouth or nose and testing the samples in a laboratory. 

Free State health authorities traced Hlangeni after he attended a church service that resulted in the province’s biggest cluster outbreak. The three-day church gathering was held from 9 to 11 March. A total of 895 people attended and over 70 Covid-19 cases were identified from the event. 

READ MORE | Covid-19: How deaths are treated in the Free State

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 Thursday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 3.81 million, while deaths were more than 267 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - close to 1.25 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 75 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The United Nations on Thursday issued a new appeal for $4.7 billion (R87 billion) in funding to "protect millions of lives and stem the spread of coronavirus in fragile countries."

"I would like to see some of the wealthiest people in the world who are making money right now step up and be generous," David Beasley, director of the UN's World Food Programme, told a videoconference.

Beasley urged the world's wealthiest people and companies to "step up in a major, major way," saying that "if they do, we'll all benefit - if they don't, everyone has to pay a price."

The money is on top of the $2 billion the UN already called for when it launched its global humanitarian response plan on 25 March. It has received about half of that money so far.

"The most devastating and destabilising effects" of the novel coronavirus pandemic "will be felt in the world's poorest countries," the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, said in a statement.

"Unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty. The specter of multiple famines looms," he warned.

READ MORE | UN asks super-wealthy to 'step up' and donate for coronavirus relief

President Donald Trump is worried wearing a face mask in public could ruin his chances of being reelected, according to a new report from the Associated Press (AP).

The president has never been seen wearing a mask in public, and drew criticism on Tuesday for failing to wear a face mask during a tour of a Honeywell plant in Arizona - going against both CDC guidance and a rule requiring workers at the factory to wear them.

Trump reportedly believes that wearing a face mask would "send the wrong message" that he is more focused on the current health threat than reopening the economy, one administration source and two campaign officials told the AP.

Aides believe that getting the US economy up and running again is key to winning in November.

One of the officials added that Trump is afraid he might look ridiculous wearing a face mask, and that the image could be used against him in attack ads.

This isn't the first time that Trump has publicly gone against coronavirus safety guidelines.

READ MORE | Donald Trump won't wear a mask in public because he's afraid he might look ridiculous

LATEST RESEARCH

While we know that Covid-19 can cause severe respiratory symptoms and patients can die because of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), scientists are investigating what else can cause a fatal outcome in Covid-19 patients.

There  have been reports on immune systems that go into overdrive, causing serious complications. Now, however, it appears that blood clots in the lungs can also cause serious outcomes.

A study, led by clinician-scientists at RCSI University of Health Scientists, found that Irish Covid 19 patients experienced more severe complications and even death, because of blood clotting in the lungs.

This study was published in the British Journal of Haematology and was covered in a press release.

READ MORE | How blood clots can cause severe Covid-19 complications

Many people with high blood pressure, medically known as hypertension, have been wondering whether their blood pressure medications could increase their risk of developing Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. However, a new study, led by researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine, found that common high blood pressure drugs did not increase the risk of contracting Covid-19, or of developing severe disease.

This came after the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology and the Heart Failure Society of America issued a joint statement on 17 March, wherein they called for urgent research into whether high blood pressure medications worsen Covid-19 patient outcomes, a news release by EurekAlert reports.

The study was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The topic became popular recently when some experts questioned the relationship between common blood pressure medications and their ability to increase the risk of Covid-19. Among them was a letter published in the Lancet. The author recommended stopping ACE Inhibitors and ARBs – which relaxes the veins and arteries to lower blood pressure – in Covid-19 patients, based on seemingly legitimate theoretical concerns. For people with hypertension, this led to a wave of panic, causing them to stop taking their medication.

READ MORE | Blood pressure medications do not increase Covid-19 risk

Many countries have implemented lockdown in an effort to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Part of this strategy has been travel restrictions and bans, and, according to a new study by computer modelling experts at Stanford University, millions more people across the European Union could have contracted the disease had these international travel bans not been enforced.

The report, published in Computer Methods in Biomechanics and Biomedical Engineering, utilised a newly developed mathematical epidemiology simulation which calculated the consequences of limiting air travel across the 27 EU states on the spread of Covid-19.

The simulation was able to estimate figures for the spread of Covid-19 for each country, if travel bans were removed.  

Since the team involved in the study can virtually lift travel restrictions between individual communities, states, or countries, and therefore analyse the potential gradual changes in spreading patterns and outbreak dynamics, their new model could play a significant role in political decision-making, one of the researchers said.

“Our results demonstrate that mathematical modelling can provide guidelines for political decision making with the ultimate goal to gradually return to normal while keeping the rate of new Covid-19 infections steady and manageable." 

READ MORE | Covid-19 travel restrictions have saved millions of people from being infected, mathematical modelling shows

Studies are beginning to show that, in rare cases, people with severe Covid-19 may develop the serious nervous system disorder known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.

"Guillain-Barre syndrome is a well-known condition in which one's immune system targets peripheral nerves as foreign and attacks them, resulting in the cardinal features of the disease," explained Dr Anthony Geraci, who directs neuromuscular medicine at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York.

The symptoms of the disorder "include weakness, areflexia [absence of reflexes], paraesthesia [tingling], and in some cases facial weakness and ataxia [poor balance]," Geraci said.

It's not uncommon for severe cases of infectious disease to trigger Guillain-Barre, experts noted. According to the Italian authors of a new study, the syndrome has also been seen in patients battling Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus and, most notably, infection with mosquito-borne Zika.

READ MORE | Some Covid-19 patients stricken by Guillain-Barre syndrome

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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