Coronavirus morning update: Smokers stocking up - fear return of ban, latest on herd immunity

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 592 144.

According to the latest update, 12 264 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 485 468 recoveries.

So far, a total of more than 3.43 million tests have been conducted, with 14 677 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Smokers want to stock up as much as possible as they fear the government, as they did with liquor, will reinstate the ban at some point.

As the country entered Alert Level 2 of the lockdown on Tuesday morning, smokers went out and started searching for cigarettes after the almost five-month ban was lifted.

While cigarettes were freely available during the prohibition, it came at a steep cost, with some brands being more expensive and scarce.

At the Makro in Silverlakes, Pretoria, a number of people started queuing to buy their fix.

News24 spoke to several who were waiting to stock up.

One man, who did not want to be named, bought 10 cartons because he was afraid the government would reverse its decision.

READ MORE | Smokers stock up out of fear the government will reverse unbanning order

The Eastern Cape has availed R2.7m for the construction of a mortuary for Covid-19 cases at Sir Henry Elliot Hospital in Mthatha as Premier Oscar Mabuyane raises concerns over high mortality rate in the province despite a steady increase in recoveries.

The province further identified 25 hospitals for bulk tank oxygen supply, with Mabuyane saying oxygen remained a critical resource in saving the lives of Covid-19 patients.

Mabuyane was speaking ahead of his tour of some of 86 hospitals currently undergoing refurbishment to the tune of R594.7m in the Eastern Cape.

Upon completion, the projects, across all six district municipalities and two metros, would guarantee the province 2 458 Covid-19 beds, he said.

Mabuyane said while the province was seeing a steady increase in the recovery rate which was above 90% across all districts, the fatality rate was a concern.

READ MORE | Eastern Cape to build R2.7m mortuary as concerns raised over high Covid-19 mortality rate

Cigarette packets flew off the shelves of Wesley's Tobacconist in Johannesburg, as a strict anti-coronavirus lockdown imposed in March was scaled down on Tuesday.

"It has been extremely busy today," said shop manager Sandra de Wet Postma, concerned about shrinking stock as she rushed between customers.

"At least it's a good sign," she exclaimed, excited to be back at work after an almost five-month break.

Outside, smokers queued eagerly for a new-found puff of their favourite brands.

Ailing businesses raised their shutters to the first inkling of normality since the start of stringent restrictions that banned the sale of alcohol and tobacco products.

After months of stifling measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa at the weekend announced the removal of "nearly all restrictions" on economic activities from Monday at midnight.

Tobacco sales have resumed, bars and gyms can reopen and restaurants are now allowed to serve alcohol.

But a night-time curfew remains in place and international borders are still shut.

READ MORE | 'Long road to recovery' for businesses as lockdown restrictions ease

Acting Gauteng Health MEC Jacob Mamabolo has said nurses who were appointed on Covid-19 contracts will be paid their salaries before the end of August.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the provincial health department said the MEC's assurance was made after "reports surfaced over the weekend alleging that at least 80 Covid-19 contract nurses at Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital had not been paid their July salaries".

"MEC Mamabolo has since directed the department to compile a consolidated report on Covid-19 human resource related issues at all facilities by the end of this week to ensure that health workers are not inconvenienced any further," read the statement.

The department said it had appointed 681 nurses during the current financial year "to augment its workforce" in responding to the pandemic.

"A total of R500 million has been budgeted for contracting various categories of workers across all institutions, inclusive of all categories of nurses," the department said.

Mamabolo added that it was "simply unacceptable that workers are not paid. We cannot expect frontline workers to lead the fight against the coronavirus while on the other hand we are letting them down in terms of their remuneration".

READ MORE | Covid-19: Acting Gauteng Health MEC promises nurses on contract will be paid July salaries

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 Tuesday night, positive cases worldwide were more than 21.97 million, while deaths were more than 776 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - close to 5.47 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 171 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

Recent reports have suggested that herd immunity may be achieved when as little as 50% of the population is immune. Herd immunity occurs when enough of the population is immune to the coronavirus, either via exposure or vaccine, for transmission to wane.

That's a welcome projection in light of earlier estimates that at least 70% of the population would need immunity before we'd be at "herd" level.

But these estimates are largely irrelevant and a distraction from the tools experts know work in combatting the coronavirus's spread, World Health Organisation officials said during a media briefing Monday.

"Right now, as a planet, as a global population, we are nowhere close to the levels of immunity required to stop this disease from transmitting," Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said.

"We need to focus on what we can acutely do now to suppress transmission and not live in hope of herd immunity being our salvation."

READ MORE | WHO: 'We are nowhere close' to having the herd immunity needed to stop the coronavirus

LATEST RESEARCH

The University of Witwatersrand (Wits) is beginning their second Covid-19 vaccine trial, and began screening participants on 17 August, according to a press release by the university.

Named the NVX-CoV2373 trial, it will test whether the nanoparticle S-protein, in the Covid-19 vaccine candidate known as NVX-CoV2373, protects against Covid-19 disease in adults aged 18–64 years old.

The vaccine is produced by biotech company, Novavax, based in the US, who are known for producing vaccines for serious infectious diseases.

The SA study is part of a larger, global clinical programme to evaluate the vaccine candidate, including larger Phase 3 studies with approximately 30 000 participants (to be launched throughout the world).

Novavax received a $15 million (R261 million) grant by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the SA trial.

The Novavax Phase 2 clinical trial will be led by Wits Professor of Vaccinology, Shabir Madhi, who is also leading the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial. Madhi engaged personally with Novavax and motivated for clinical development of the vaccine to be undertaken in SA.

READ MORE | Wits begins second Covid-19 vaccine trial – and you can register as a volunteer

The Covid-19 pandemic officially started in Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.

Less than a month later, the first US case was confirmed in Seattle.

However, a study published in EClinicalMedicine posits that the numbers were initially in actual fact much greater than thought – and that the outbreak started much earlier than the first confirmed case.

The researchers analysed two studies from the respective cities, which retroactively tested swabs for people initially thought to have the flu in hospitals.

In Wuhan, four out of 26 patients presenting flu-like symptoms tested positive for the coronavirus prior to 12 January 2020.

In Seattle, 25 cases tested positive for the coronavirus out of 2 353 children and adults who also presented with flu-like symptoms before 9 March. Using these datasets, the researchers extrapolated how many actual infections there were in each city.

READ MORE | Retroactive Covid-19 testing indicates numbers in Wuhan and Seattle initially far higher

Bats have been blamed as a possible source of the new coronavirus pandemic ravaging the globe. But they might also point to possible ways out of it.

Scientists say the winged mammals' immune systems may offer clues on how to fight the new coronavirus and other dangerous viruses in humans.

"Humans have two possible strategies if we want to prevent inflammation, live longer and avoid the deadly effects of diseases like Covid-19," explained study lead author Vera Gorbunova, a professor of biology at the University of Rochester in New York. "One would be to not be exposed to any viruses, but that's not practical. The second would be to regulate our immune system more like a bat."

Many deadly viruses that affect people are believed to have originated in bats, including rabies, Ebola and SARS-CoV-2, the strain that causes Covid-19. But bats have evolved a secret weapon: They're better able to tolerate viruses than humans and other mammals.

"We've been interested in longevity and disease resistance in bats for a while, but we didn't have the time to sit and think about it," Gorbunova said in a university news release.

"Being in quarantine gave us time to discuss this, and we realised there may be a very strong connection between bats' resistance to infectious diseases and their longevity. We also realised that bats can provide clues to human therapies used to fight diseases," she explained.

READ MORE | Coronavirus may have come from bats; could they also hold clues to treatments?

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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