Coronavirus morning update: Minister on special leave, Sassa date changes, and immune system 'storm'



Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 1 845.

According to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, 18 deaths have now been recorded in the country.

So far, 63 776 tests have been conducted.

READ MORE |All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken a firm stance against Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, following allegations that Ndabeni-Abrahams breached lockdown regulations by visiting a friend.

On Wednesday, Ramaphosa put Ndabeni-Abrahams on special leave and directed her to apologise publicly after a picture of her having a meal at the home of former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana went viral on social media.

The post, which appears to be a screengrab of Manana's Instagram page, shows the two politicians and several others seated at a table.

Ramaphosa summoned Ndabeni-Abrahams to a meeting on Tuesday where he expressed his disapproval and told her that she undermined lockdown regulations which required all citizens to stay at home to curb the spread of Covid-19.

READ MORE | Ramaphosa puts Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams on special leave, orders her to publicly apologise

In a video on Wednesday, Ndabeni-Abrahams apologised to Ramaphosa and all South Africans.

"Fellow South Africans, I would like to convey an apology to President Cyril Ramaphosa, the national command centre [and] the South African society at large for breaching lockdown rules put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19," Ndabeni-Abrahams said in the video.

"I met with the president yesterday (Tuesday) after a photo was circulated on social media, showing myself at the home of Mr Mduduzi Manana during the lockdown and social distancing period," Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

She added that she regretted her actions. "I regret the incident and I am deeply sorry for my actions. I hope the president and you, South Africans, will find it in your hearts to forgive me."

READ MORE | 'I hope you will find it in your hearts to forgive me' - Ndabeni-Abrahams apologises

Due to long queues during the lockdown, the SA Social Security Agency's (Sassa) grant payout days will be changed to protect the elderly.

As from May, disability grants as well as those for the elderly will be paid on the fourth, while others will be paid on the sixth. 

In a statement, Sassa said grant payments for April was brought forward to 30 March to allow people to buy supplies during the lockdown without them being caught up in long queues or exposing themselves to Covid-19. 

However, chaos ensued, including a situation in Dobsonville, Soweto, where a group of young people pushed the elderly out of the way to get to the pay points first. 

READ MORE | Sassa changes payout days after lockdown pay crush

As the number of coronavirus cases in South Africa continues to grow, National Treasury has moved to centralise the sourcing of personal protective equipment from suppliers. 

This comes as countries around the globe scramble to secure scarce medical equipment to fight the virus, which has already killed over 83 000 people worldwide.

Citing a shortage of protective gear, Treasury on Wednesday issued a call for "compliant, particularly local" suppliers of PPE items such as surgical gloves, masks, sanitisers, ventilators and more to submit offers to a central project management office for assessment. 

Other items on the list included overshoes, biohazard bags, cleaning alcohol, disinfectants, protective eyewear and disposable aprons. 

READ MORE | Treasury centralises sourcing of protective gear

Separated parents are now allowed to move their children between houses during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, provided they meet certain legal requirements.

While government had previously been unclear about the issue, new regulations regarding the matter were gazetted on Tuesday.

Separated or divorced parents who want to move their children between them during the lockdown, will need a court order or an agreement that is registered with the family advocate, such as a parental responsibilities and rights agreement or a parenting plan.

The responsible parent transporting their child or children must have these documents, or a certified copy, in their possession when travelling.

READ MORE | Lockdown: Separated parents allowed to move kids between houses - new regulations


Cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Positive cases worldwide are now close to 1.5 million, while deaths are more than 88 500.

The United States has more than 430 000 cases, and Spain has the second most, with close to 150 000.

Italy has the most deaths with nearly 17 700.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The UK government is under growing pressure to explain who is now in charge of the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains badly ill in intensive care.

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is officially deputising for Johnson. However, the UK's unwritten constitution and a shaky performance from Raab himself over recent days has thrown the question of who is really in charge of the British government into doubt.

Raab continues to chair meetings in the prime minister's absence and deputising for him "where necessary," Downing Street said, but it is not clear he has the authority to make key decisions in the coming weeks.

Questions to the prime minister's official spokesman and Raab himself over recent days have failed to clarify exactly where power now lies.

READ MORE | The UK government is suffering a coronavirus 'power vacuum' after Boris Johnson was put into ICU

President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to cut US funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO) after accusing it of pro-China bias.

"We're going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We're going to put a very powerful hold on it and we're going to see," Trump said at the White House coronavirus task force briefing that day.

He made the announcement hours after attacking the organization in a tweet. "The W.H.O. really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look," Trump wrote.

"Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on," he added. "Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?"

READ MORE | Trump threatened to cut off funding to the WHO, saying 'they seem to always err on the side of China'

Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, lifted its lockdown on Wednesday and couples living there rushed to take advantage.

A local marriage application system run by Chinese tech platform Alipay saw a 300% increase in traffic, according to an official post on China's microblogging site Weibo, causing a temporary logjam.

Alipay also announced in its post that it offers a service to couples to search and see what baby names have already been used by other couples. Alipay is one of the most widely-used payment platforms in China, alongside WeChat.

According to Chinese tech publication Abacus, marriage applications from Wuhan were suspended through February and March while the city's 11 million residents were subject to its 76-day lockdown.

READ MORE | Wuhan couples were so eager to marry after lockdown that they crashed the marriage application system


Last week, Health24 reported on the BCG vaccine that is being trialled in Australia in the hopes of fighting the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

In a nutshell, a team of researchers in Australia will fast-track the BCG vaccine in humans to see how Covid-19 symptoms respond. The study will give a BCG vaccination to frontline Healthcare workers to see if it decreased the likelihood of Vovid-19 virus infection, and potentially if infected, then the severity of disease.

Now, a new study has surfaced, investigating the correlation between the mortality rate of Covid-19 related complications and the universal BCG vaccine policies between countries.

In simple terms – are those nations who make BCG vaccines mandatory at birth less susceptible to high Covid-19 related deaths?

READ MORE | Could the TB vaccine you received at birth help protect against the coronavirus? We asked an expert

Research has shown that older adults and those with underlying medical conditions are more likely to die from Covid-19 related complications than others.

But what explains the severe symptoms in a number of much younger, seemingly healthy people?

Research published in The Lancet earlier in March 2020 suggested that a subgroup of patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms might suffer these complications, not because of their age or underlying conditions, but a so-called "cytokine storm".

Cytokines are made up of various proteins and are released by the immune cells as a defence response to an intruder, such as a virus. These cytokines have an effect on other cells in the body, which can manifest as inflammation – think of arthritis, as an example – when your immune system is triggered and releases inflammation, manifesting as pain.

READ MORE | Some coronavirus deaths caused by extreme reaction from immune system

Mirroring findings from a similar study in China, the first comprehensive tally of coronavirus infection in American children shows it's much less likely to cause severe illness.

Children under the age of 18 are far less likely to even be diagnosed with Covid-19 than adults. Although people under the age of 18 make up 22% of the US population, they made up just 1.7% of cases recorded between 12 February and 2 April, the new study found.

Even if kids were made ill by the new coronavirus, that illness was typically mild, said a team led by Lucy McNamara, of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Covid-19 Response Team.

Just under 6% of kids with Covid-19 ended up in the hospital, the study found, compared to 10% of adults aged 18 to 64.

READ MORE | US study finds Covid-19 seldom severe in kids

The first community-acquired case of Covid-19 in the United States posed many questions for doctors, but the answers they found led to key changes in federal guidelines for coronavirus testing, according to a case study.

The patient was an otherwise healthy woman in her 40s who was admitted to University of California (UC) Davis Health with a respiratory infection. Doctors suspected community-acquired pneumonia, and measures were put in place to prevent her from infecting others.

Within 24 hours, the woman's respiratory condition deteriorated, and she was intubated and given antibiotics. Testing over several days failed to identify the source of infection.

Doctors suspected Covid-19, but the patient had not travelled to a high-risk area and had had no contact with anyone who had. As such, she did not meet US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for coronavirus testing, the authors explained.

READ MORE | How one patient's battle with Covid-19 changed US testing protocols

HEALTH TIPS (as recommended by the NICD and WHO)

• Avoid contact with people who have respiratory infections 

• 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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