Coronavirus morning recap: 'Hidden gene', SA's tracing app, and black market for Covid tests



READ | 'Hidden' gene discovered in Covid-19 virus could give more insight into its ability to spread

Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History have identified a new "hidden" gene in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and say this may explain why it is so highly infectious.

The discovery of the “overlapping gene”, named ORF3d, could have a significant impact on how we combat the virus, the research team wrote. Overlapping genes (OLGs) are a type of 'gene within a gene', effectively concealed in a string of nucleotides, ScienceAlert explains.

"Overlapping genes may be one of an arsenal of ways in which coronaviruses have evolved to replicate efficiently, thwart host immunity, or get themselves transmitted," said lead author Chase Nelson, a postdoctoral researcher at Academia Sinica in Taiwan and a visiting scientist at the American Museum of Natural History.

"Knowing that overlapping genes exist and how they function may reveal new avenues for coronavirus control, for example through antiviral drugs."

Their findings were published in the journal eLife.

According to the team’s findings, the newly discovered gene is present in a previously discovered pangolin coronavirus. This, they say, possibly reveals repeated loss or gain of this gene during the evolution of the new coronavirus, as well as related viruses.

READ | OPINION: Unpacking the legal and ethical aspects of South Africa’s Covid-19 track and trace app

The most effective way to stop the spread of a virus is to prevent contact with everyone who is infected. Those who are infected can be isolated and treated if necessary. To determine who they are, it’s necessary to actively look for and manage cases.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, emerging technologies are being repurposed to help trace whoever has been in contact with an infected person.

Some of these technologies, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), wi-fi and Bluetooth, are not new. GPS has been used to find accident victims at precise geographic locations. Some of the uses of wi-fi are oxygen monitoring devices, smart beds, access to electronic medical records and real-time access to X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging scans.

Now these tools can also help do one of the most important jobs in the pandemic: track and trace. They allow people some movement and economic activity, with the ability to manage their own risk of being exposed to possible infection or spreading any infection.

The South African government recently introduced a mobile application, COVID Alert SA, to help people notify their close contacts if they are infected.

The app is based on smartphone technology enabled by readily available functions developed by Apple or the Google Exposure Notification System. It uses a phone’s signal to generate a random code. The code is then exchanged with other users of the same app within a two metre radius. These codes are stored on the respective devices for two weeks.


SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 744 732.

According to the latest update, 20 076 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 690 903 recoveries.

So far, 5 063 457 tests have been conducted, with 25 675 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

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

Early on Friday morning, positive cases worldwide were 53 001 867, while deaths were 1 289 474.

The United States had the most cases in the world - 10 488 531, as well as the most deaths - 242 248.


Latest news:

READ | Covid-19: 'Incomprehensible' to extend state of disaster, says DA leader

Newly elected DA leader John Steenhuisen has come out guns blazing following President Cyril Ramaphosa's extension of the national state of disaster by another month, to 15 December, in order to keep Covid-19 prevention measures in place.

Ramaphosa made a number of announcements on Wednesday evening.

South Africa will be allowing tourists from all countries across its borders under an upcoming amendment to the Level 1 Covid-19 lockdown regulations, ending the controversial red-list travel system.

Trading hours will also be normalised, "for instance for the sale of alcohol for retail outlets".

But Steenhuisen said it was "incomprehensible" that the state of disaster has been extended by yet another month.

"Government cannot keep managing South Africa around a single risk when our nation is so imperilled by far greater risks, such as poverty, hunger and unemployment," the DA leader said in a statement following Ramaphosa's address.


Latest news:

READ | There's a global black market for negative Covid test results, with fakes starting around R3,000

As the coronavirus pandemic continues around the world, some people are turning to an emerging black market for fake negative test results.

In France, at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport in September, a group of seven people were arrested for selling falsified digital certificates intended to prove negative coronavirus results, the AP reported last week.

The group was discovered following an investigation sparked by a traveler leaving France for Ethiopia. The traveler reportedly had a fake digital certificate that claimed they tested negative for the virus.

The group in Paris was reportedly selling the fake test results for $180 (R2,800) to $360 (R5,600) apiece.

In another case, in late October, a group of travelers in Brazil was found with falsified negative test results in an attempt to enter the Fernando de Noronha island group, the AP reported.

Rather than buying fake test results, the group is accused of altering their own results.

READ | A Biden Covid-19 advisor called for a national lockdown in the US lasting up to 6 weeks

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an influential Covid-19 advisor to President-elect Joe Biden, on Wednesday called for a four- to six-week nationwide lockdown to help drive down infection numbers.

Osterholm, part of Biden's 13-person Covid-19 advisory panel announced Monday, told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday that the US had a "big pool of money" to help pay for people's lost wages and get the economy back on track during a lockdown while a vaccine was being rolled out.

Osterholm said a national lockdown would drive the number of new cases down, "like they did in New Zealand and Australia."

"We could pay for a package right now to cover all of the wages, lost wages for individual workers, for losses to small companies, to medium-sized companies or city, state, county governments. We could do all of that," he said. "If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks."

He added: "We could really watch ourselves cruising into the vaccine availability in the first and second quarter of next year while bringing back the economy long before that."

Over the last seven days, the US has recorded an average of more than 112,000 daily cases. Cases reached an all-time peak of more than 132,000 on Friday.

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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