Coronavirus morning update: Lockdown latest, claiming Covid-19 funds, and what about 'normal' healthcare?

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 13 524.

Of these cases, there have been 6 083 recoveries.

According to the latest update, 247 deaths have been recorded in the country.

So far, 421 555 tests have been conducted, with more than 18 500 new tests.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

South Africa could migrate to Level 3 lockdown before the end of May, according to the Presidency.

This as National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) constituencies work sectorally and collectively to achieve the country's earliest possible migration to Level 3.

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko said President Cyril Ramaphosa had co-chaired a virtual meeting on Friday of the Nedlac constituencies to assess preparations for the step-down from Level 4.

"Today's meeting was the first in a series of consultations led by the president between government and social partners as well as more specific sectors of civil society on the migration from Level 4 to Level 3 of the lockdown.

"Social partners expressed their support for the risk-adjusted approach South Africa has taken to the reopening of the economy, as well as for the original restrictions put in place to give the country time to prepare the health system for the management of Covid-19 infections."

READ MORE | Plans afoot to move SA to Level 3 before end of May - Presidency

Amid frustration that some companies are not applying for special coronavirus benefits for their staff, new regulations allow employees to directly request the money from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).

Previously, only companies could apply for so-called Covid-19 Temporary Relief (TERS) payments. They would receive the money, and then pay their employees.

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 the payouts. 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. The average amount paid out so far is R5 000.

Some 2.3 million employees have received R12.7 billion to date.

READ MORE | Workers can now claim Covid-19 cash directly from the UIF - no need to wait for employers

Murderers, rapists, child abusers and terrorists are among those who will not be considered when the Department of Correctional Services releases around 19 000 prisoners from its 240 centres across the country in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.

The department announced in a statement on Friday that it had begun a process of recalling parole board members to work from lockdown to start the process. They will be assisted by case management committees.

The offenders will be released in a phased process, starting with women, children and elderly inmates. They will be followed by offenders with shorter sentences and then those with longer sentences, the department said.

With a total inmate population of 156 000, an outbreak in the country's prisons would be catastrophic, said correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.

READ MORE | Where, when and how - Correctional Services outlines plans for release of 19 000 inmates

Two months after South Africa recorded its first case of Covid-19, the cost of treating the disease is becoming clearer – though with complications for medical schemes likely to bear the brunt of the expenses.

South Africa's second-largest medical aid administrator, Medscheme, which represents 3.8 million people, has now processed 97 claims relating to Covid-19, the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF) said in a statement this week.

At a total cost of R14.5 million, that averages to just about R150 000 per patient.

That number includes intensive care treatment, medication, and professional fees, Medscheme says.

READ MORE | Treating Covid-19 in SA is costing around R150 000 per person – before indirect expenses

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 4.51 million, while deaths were more than 306 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 1.43 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 87 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Although the reality of a sunny vacation might feel a bit out of reach this year, resorts in Spain have been coming up with social distancing solutions for visitors.

Silgar beach in Sanxenxo, in the north-west region of Galicia, Spain, is prepping for summer visitors with roped-off zones around sun loungers and umbrellas with an aim to keep social distancing measures in place for beachgoers.

The system will consist of 780 cuadrículas (grids) to accommodate between 1 560 and 2 340 people, which puts it at 50 to 75% capacity compared to previous seasons. On the plus side, this means a beach break will be a little quieter than usual.

Each grid will be three by three meters, and made from wooden posts wedged into the ground joined up by cords.

READ MORE | Spanish beaches have figured out socially distant sunbathing - and you can book your spot on an app

LATEST RESEARCH

As Covid-19 continues to take centre stage in the world’s hospitals and clinics, concerns are mounting over the impact on ‘normal’ healthcare. This is particularly so in South Africa, where there are increased rates of cancer and diabetes besides severe HIV and tuberculosis (TB) epidemics. Spotlight asked a range of experts and frontline workers how this tension between Covid-19 and other healthcare services is playing out in our healthcare facilities.

Dr Lydia Cairncross, Head of Groote Schuur Hospital’s Breast and Endocrine Surgery Unit in Cape Town, told Spotlight that the pandemic was landing on top of South Africa’s pre-existing crisis for oncological services.

“At the beginning of the lockdown period we had a large number of women waiting for breast cancer surgery – over 80 [women],” she said. “We also have patients waiting for other forms of diagnostic surgery as well as treatments for other malignancies. What we’ve had to do is prioritise cancer surgery over other elective surgery. We’ve also had to put some patients onto alternative therapies where that has been possible.”

Cairncross said that so far, the hospital has had no major delays in cancer surgeries, except where a surgery requires long admission to hospital and intensive care. 

Professor Jeannette Parkes, Head of Radiation Oncology at Groote Schuur, said that while a lot had changed in the department to protect patients, services were running in full force. “We’re running a full new patient service, full chemotherapy services and full radiotherapy services,” she said. 

“Our concern is that we’ve looked at the lessons that have been learnt in some of the overseas departments and we know that cancer patients do worse from a Covid-19 point of view, and they do worse from a cancer point of view if they are having active treatment while they are infected.”

READ MORE | Covid-19: Is ‘normal’ healthcare being crowded out?

In South Africa, we’ve seen the headlines about the deaths of nurses from Covid-19. As healthcare workers are exposed to SARS-Cov-2 on a daily basis, it makes sense that they are more at risk for Covid-19 infection.

But it still seems that some people are more at risk of illness than others. This led a group of researchers funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to set up a clinical study of NHS healthcare workers in the United Kingdom to determine which frontline workers are most at risk.

According to a news release, this study will continue to collect samples from several frontline healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, administrators and others) who are not showing any symptoms of the virus

The researchers collected samples of blood, saliva and nasal swabs from workers in three London hospitals to determine who were most likely to be exposed early on in the pandemic. 

The researchers also wanted to determine whether anyone who was constantly exposed to the virus developed immunity, and if there were any exposure hotspots inside the hospitals.

Not only will the research determine which people are more likely to contract Covid-19, but the research can also help enhance ways of testing for the virus, and create a sample library that can be utilised for vaccines or drug development, according to the news report.

READ MORE | New study of healthcare workers could identify who’s most at risk for coronavirus

With sporadic reports of tigers and housecats picking up the new coronavirus from nearby humans, a new trial gives more details on whether cats can pass the virus to each other.

The answer: Yes, and quite easily, according to the new trial involving six felines.

But there was good news, too: Even though cats can transmit the new SARS-CoV-2 virus to other felines, none of the kitties infected in the new study appeared to get sick.

Still, the team of American and Japanese researchers said that domestic cats "may be a silent intermediate host of SARS-CoV-2, because infected cats may not show any appreciable symptoms that might be recognised by their owners."

So far, however, there's been no evidence that cats can pass the virus to humans – only evidence that humans might pass the virus to a pet cat.

In the study, a team led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, of the University of Tokyo, first deliberately infected (via inoculation) three domestic cats with the new coronavirus. By three days after the inoculation, the virus was detected in nasal swab tests in all three cats.

At the same time, each of the three infected cats were paired with an uninfected cat on day one after their inoculation, with the pairs housed in close contact.

READ MORE | There's bad news and good news on coronavirus' spread in cats

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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