Coronavirus morning update: Lowdown on cigarette prices, and lockdown leaves SA drowning in debt

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 599 940.

According to the latest update, 12 618 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 497 169 recoveries.

So far, more than 3.4 million tests have been conducted, with just over 24 600 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

It's not your imagination: some cigarette brands really are more expensive than before they were banned under South Africa's coronavirus lockdown. And the bad news is that they're about to get even pricier.

Business Insider South Africa compared the prices of popular cigarette brands before and after the lockdown. We used historical price data from the Research Unit on the Economics of Excisable Products (REEP) at the University of Cape Town, led by Professor Corné van Walbeek. The research unit has published a number of studies on the price increases of illegal cigarettes during the lockdown.

We compared those historical average prices to our own survey of post-lockdown prices in Cape Town this week.

That shows how the prices of premium brands, such as Camel have skyrocketed by as much as 35%, while the prices of mid-market brands such as Winston and Rothmans have stayed about the same, even getting slightly cheaper. Marlboro is 30% more expensive, while Peter Stuyvesant is 19% more expensive.

READ MORE | Cigarettes are more expensive than before the lockdown ban – and it is about to get worse

The Western Cape Health Department is planning to resume elective surgeries at public hospitals as soon as Covid-19 cases and deaths continue to decline in the province.

However, the head of the provincial health department Dr Keith Cloete said this would have to be done carefully, as areas in the province peaked and declined at different rates.

"It is going to be slower because of the Covid reality," said Cloete.

It would probably also involve having a Covid-19 test before going for surgery. If a patient had Covid-19, the procedure would probably be delayed until they were better.

The provincial government was confident that it had enough beds and equipment to cope with another rise in cases, and to manage current and new cases.

There were no testing backlogs, and there was enough capacity should it be needed.

READ | Covid-19: Elective surgeries to return in Western Cape as it eyes Level 1 due to decline in cases

The Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital has to date recorded 731 staff members who have tested positive since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the facility's management has told the Office of the Public Protector.

The affected staff has been broad, ranging from support and contractors to students.Only 37 staff personnel were active cases and five were hospitalised, with four being in ICU.

Eight employees succumbed to the virus - two nurses, five cleaners and one cashier.At least 679 workers have recovered.

The hospital informed Deputy Public Protector advocate Kholeka Gcaleka that among the infected staff were nurses, who made up the bulk staff complement, followed by cleaners.

The Office of the Public Protector has been visiting healthcare facilities to inspect and observe first hand issues faced by staff and patients amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ MORE | 731 workers tested positive for Covid-19 at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Deputy Public Protector hears

New studies of the impact of lockdown on the economy paint the picture of a country locked in a downward spiral of rising joblessness and debt.

In a recent survey, debt counselling firm DebtBusters found that the debt holiday offered by the banks at the start of the lockdown in late March 2020 had added R20.7 billion to the debt of the estimated 1.6 million South Africans who took advantage of this.

Those who accepted the three month repayment holidays offered by the banks, and suspended their payments on car, mortgage and personal loans, will end up paying on average an extra R30 100 on top of what they already owed, according to the results of the study.

"In a country as over-­indebted as South Africa, especially at a time when the economy is contracting, this is enough to push people who were just about making ends meet into a situation where their debt­-to-­income ratio is unsustainable," says Benay Sager, DebtBusters’ Chief Operating Officer.

Credit bureau TransUnion issued a report in July on the financial impact of Covid-­19 on consumers, showing 77% of consumers had been hit, following 84% in June. By August, 21% of those surveyed reported losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic, compared with 10% in April. Nearly nine out of ten of them said they were concerned about their ability to pay loans and bills.

READ MORE | Lockdown has left SA drowning in debt

The management of some processes and procurement services at provincial level seem to hinder service delivery at public healthcare facilities in Gauteng.

This was the main observation the office of the Public Protector picked up from its inspection of facilities across the province this week.

Led by Deputy Public Protector Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka, the office had been visiting healthcare facilities to inspect and observe first-hand the challenges staff and patients faced.

Among the hospitals visited in Gauteng were those reserved to deal with Covid-19, including George Mukhari Academic Hospital and Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital was the last to be toured in the province on Thursday.

"The common challenges is the systemic challenges that have of course been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The complaints, overall, is that of processes which are managed at a provincial level," said Gcaleka.

"In the hospitals that we have visited, which are the central hospitals, the CEOs are only authorised to a budget of up to R500 000. More than that has to be approved at a provincial level, which causes a huge challenge for them and a backlog in procurement of equipment for the hospital."

READ MORE | Procurement processes at provincial level hinder service delivery at hospitals, PP's office observes

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 22.5 million, while deaths were close to 790 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 5.5 million, as well as the most deaths - almost 174 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

More than 22.5 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 786 622 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

South Korea's coronavirus infections are back "in full swing" and spreading nationwide after members of a church attended a political demonstration, authorities said on Thursday, threatening one of the world's Covid-19 success stories.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 288 new cases as of midnight on Wednesday, marking a week of triple-digit daily increases, although down slightly from the previous day's 297.

"This is a grave situation that could possibly lead to a nationwide pandemic," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.

Without aggressive contact tracing, the country could experience the types of spikes and continued infections witnessed in the United States and Europe, said KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook.

"Consider the Covid-19 pandemic now to be in full-swing."

READ MORE | Covid-19 wrap: South Korea infections 'in full swing', parts of Croatia declared virus risk areas

LATEST RESEARCH

When lockdown Level 2 was announced on 15 August 2020, many people were excited at the prospect of meeting friends in public spaces, including bars and restaurants.

While you can reduce your risk of contracting Covid-19 by wearing a mask, washing hands and standing at least 2m away from other people, there is another area where you should be careful – public restrooms.

Earlier this year, Health24 published an article mentioning a study that investigated the spread of Covid-19 by means of a plume of particles when we flush toilets. A new research paper published in Physics of Fluids similarly investigated the spread of Covid-19 in public restrooms – but this time, as a result of urinals being flushed.

In the earlier article, we discussed the risk of Covid-19 spreading through stools. Recently, researchers were also able to extract SARS-CoV-2 particles from urine. This means that flushing a toilet with the lid up isn’t the only thing in restrooms that can spread Covid-19 through air particles, but that the flushing of urinals could also be a risk.

The researchers looked at the flushing process of urinals to investigate the trajectory and flow pattern of viral aerosols and found that more than 57% of the particles travel up and away from the urinal, rather than downwards.

READ MORE | Heading out during Level 2? Make sure you wear your mask in public restrooms

The relationship between weather conditions and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has been studied since the early stages of the pandemic.

The first study, published in Rapid Communication, focused on the Greater Sydney area and found a link between lower humidity, or "drier air", and an increase in community transmission of the virus.

Now, a second study, published in Transboundary and Emerging Diseases this week, and carried out by the same team, confirms this risk.

The research was led by Professor Michael Ward, an epidemiologist in the Sydney School of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, and two researchers from their partner institution Fudan University School of Public Health in Shanghai, China.

The published, peer-reviewed study is the second to investigate weather conditions and transmission of the virus in Australia, and found reduced humidity in several different regions of Sydney to be consistently linked to increased case numbers. However, the same link was not found for other weather factors, including rainfall, temperature and wind.

"This second study adds to a growing body of evidence that humidity is a key factor in the spread of [the] Covid-19 [virus]," Ward said in a news release.

READ MORE | Dry air a breeding ground for Covid-19 virus, researchers find

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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