Coronavirus morning update: WC awaits new travel regulations; and Covid-19 testing to increase

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 655 572.

According to the latest update, 15 772 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 585 303 recoveries.

So far, more than 3.9 million tests have been conducted, with 22 354 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

Business 4 South Africa’s co-chair Martin Kingston joined President Cyril Ramaphosa's calls for the country to remain vigilant against Covid-19, as well as corruption within state procurement aimed at responding to the pandemic, as South Africa further lifts restrictions.

Ramaphosa announced on Wednesday evening that as from 20 September, South Africa would shift to alert Level 1 of its national lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Under this level of lockdown, more service-based industries will have restrictions lifted and limited international travel will be permitted.

In a statement released by B4SA on Thursday morning, Kingston said the contribution of healthcare workers showed that if South Africans work together in a crisis for a common cause, the country can overcome uncertainty and challenges.

"B4SA is now making a call for all South Africans to play their part in the economic recovery now so desperately needed. We must all ask ourselves how each one of us can contribute to the rebuilding of our economy by supporting relevant areas in the plan," Kingston said.

Kingston said as the country began its journey to economic recovery following the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown, it was vital that South Africans continue to be vigilant to prevent a second spike in deaths as seen in other countries.

READ MORE | SA must now face corruption and second wave threat, warns business lobby

The Western Cape government is eagerly waiting for the regulations on international travel to be announced so that it can find out which countries will be able to fly to South Africa during Level 1.

Level 1 starts at midnight on Sunday, and international flights would resume from three major airports from October 1 after a massive global flight shut down to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Plans to get the 31 non-stop flights back on track were underway; vigilance and monitoring plans were ready in case there was a second wave; and all that was left was to hear which countries South Africa would receive flights from.

Visitors from the UK, US and Germany were the most predominant among international travellers to the province.The province was first to be hit by the pandemic, and was confident that the worst was over for now.

Premier Alan Winde said that people must continue being vigilant to show that the southern tip of Africa "can do it safely".

Some areas such as Oudtshoorn, Stanford and Wupperthal were still seeing sudden increases in cases at different times to the rest of the province and these were being monitored, but the overall picture was one of a vast reduction in cases.

READ MORE | Lockdown Level 1: Western Cape awaits new travel regulations ahead of tourist season

The number of Covid-19 cases exploded in South Africa's prisons as more than 4 000 officials and over 2 000 inmates tested positive for the virus.

By 23 August, a total of 4 136 officials and 2 336 inmates had been infected with Covid-19.

The virus also claimed the lives of 60 officials and 43 inmates.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola revealed these figures in response to a written parliamentary question from EFF MP Patrick Sindane.

Sindane wanted details on the number of prison officials and inmates that have been infected.

He also requested details on the government's strategy to curb the spread of Covid-19 incorrectional services centres.

Lamola said the process in releasing offenders was ongoing.

READ MORE | More than 100 die as Covid-19 storm rips through SA's prisons

As the country appears to be past the Covid-19 peak, testing for the coronavirus will be increased to identify and contain outbreaks to avoid a second wave of mass infections.

This according to President Cyril Ramaphosa who announced the country would be moving to Level 1 of the lockdown at midnight on Sunday as the rate of infections continued to decline.

"Two months ago, at the height of the storm, we were recording around 12 000 new cases a day. Now, we are on average recording less than 2 000 cases a day. We now have a recovery rate of 89%," Ramaphosa said.

"Even as restrictions have eased over the last month with our move to alert Level 2, there has been a gradual, but steady, decline in new infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

"Demand for hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen and other essential medical requirements have also reduced steadily."

He added the country had succeeded in overcoming the worst phase of the pandemic while protecting the capacity of its health system.

But the fight is not over.

READ MORE | Lockdown Level 1: Covid-19 testing to be increased to contain outbreaks, says Ramaphosa

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 over 29.9 million, while deaths were just over 942 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 6.6 million, as well as the most deaths - almost 198 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Thursday of "alarming rates of transmission" of Covid-19 across Europe and cautioned countries against shortening quarantine periods.

The WHO's regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said the number of coronavirus cases seen in September "should serve as a wake-up call for all of us".

"Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates oftransmission across the region," he told an online press conference from Danish capital Copenhagen.

The health body also said it would not change its guidance calling for a 14-day quarantine period for anyone exposed to the novel coronavirus.

"Our quarantine recommendation of 14 days has been based on our understanding of the incubation period and transmission of the disease. We would only revise that on the basis of a change of our understanding of the science," WHO Europe's senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said.

In France for instance, the recommended length for self-isolation in case of exposure has been reduced to seven days.

It is 10 days in the UK and Ireland, and several more European countries, such as Portugal and Croatia, are currently considering reducing their recommendations.

READ MORE | Covid-19 wrap: Global cases cross 29.94m, 'alarming' transmissions in Europe, England cases up by 167%

LATEST RESEARCH

As of 9 September, 180 Covid-19 vaccine candidates are being tested around the world, according to the World Health Organization - but only 35 of those have managed to make it out of the lab into human trials.

And of the candidates  being tested on people, only about a quarter - 9 - have made it to phase three trials, which is the stage during which the vaccine is being tested on a large number of people for efficacy and safety. 

Trials traditionally go through several stages, beginning with laboratory tests and animal studies, to ensure that they are safe and demonstrate some benefit. If positive results are obtained during this stage, by means of an immune response against the virus, the research can then progress to human trials, which occur in three phases.

Each stage gets progressively bigger in size and fine-tunes details such as the correct dosage required, with phase three being the final stage before seeking regulatory approval if the vaccine turns out to be effective.

So which vaccine trials should you be watching and when are we likely to see their results?

We break down five of the phase two and three frontrunners.

READ MORE | Covid vaccines 101: Breaking down the good, the bad, and the promise of the frontrunners

Healthcare workers have been at the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, fighting day and night against the onslaught of the Covid-19 virus.

It's no secret that, among these professionals, infection rates are far higher than in the general population, adding another layer of risk to an already stressful job.

New research published in Thorax aims to add to the growing body of research on Covid-19 and healthcare workers by looking at asymptomatic spread in a hospital setting, and which type of worker is most susceptible to infection.

"Understanding the relationship between infection, symptomatology and the subsequent serological responses is critical to understanding herd immunity, vaccine deployment and safeguarding the workforce," write the researchers. "Seroprevalence studies provide the foundation to inform this understanding."

The researchers analysed samples from 545 asymptomatic healthcare workers from the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust in the UK. They took the sample after one 24-hour workday in April and tested for Covid-19 with a nasopharyngeal swab and for its antibodies with a blood test.

They excluded anyone presenting with symptoms on the day of the study.

Thirteen of the participants tested positive for the coronavirus, and 24.4% tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies. Those who showed symptoms had a better immunity than those who never developed symptoms.

READ MORE | Healthcare workers and Covid-19: Researchers looked at risk of transmission in a hospital setting 

A new comprehensive analysis of antibody responses in Covid-19 patients showed that the neutralising activity of antibodies from the recovered patients was typically not strong, and declined sharply within one month of hospital discharge.

Researchers Chao Wu and Rui Huang, of Nanjing University Medical School in China, monitored the SARS-CoV-2-specific antibody responses in 19 non-severe and seven severe Covid-19 patients for seven weeks from disease onset.

They wrote that the results of their study, published in PLOS Pathogens this month, may serve as fundamental information for developing a Covid-19 vaccine, as well as effective treatments for the disease.

Neutralising antibodies, as explained in a previous Health24 article, is an important line of defence in the fight against Covid-19. They do their job by binding to specific parts of the virus, and neutralise the virus’s damaging effects.

If antibodies are found to be present, they indicate that the person has previously had a SARS-CoV-2 infection (as the antibodies are only produced by infection), and that if that same person encountered the virus again, the presence of antibodies would likely result in a level of protection.

In the Chinese study, the researchers found that the majority of patients generated antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2.

READ MORE | Antibody responses in Covid-19 patients: What latest study reveals

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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