Coronavirus morning update: Threat of second wave remains, and latest global news on vaccines

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 651 521.

According to the latest update, 15 641 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 583 126 recoveries.

So far, a total of more than 3.94 million tests have been conducted, with 11 603 new tests reported.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases of coronavirus in SA

Latest news:

South Africa is on its way to reaching the threshold of a country with low-level Covid-19 transmission, leading epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Professor Salim Abdool Karim said on Tuesday.

But the country is not out of the woods just yet.

"We are at a continued high risk and threat of having another wave. I think that is just part of the reality that we have to live with," he said during a webinar on Covid-19 and how the Western Cape became Africa's first epicentre, which was hosted by ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability.

Data shows the country's five key indicators were "all going in the same direction", Abdool Karim said, adding:"The number of cases is coming down. The proportion testing positive is coming down, the admissions, deaths, excess deaths and oxygen use is coming down. Every indicator we have is going in the right direction."

The Lancet Covid-19 Commission classified countries with a threshold of one positive case per 100 000 as having a low level of transmission, he explained, while the WHO threshold was at a 5% positivity rate.

"One per 100 000 translates to less than 600 cases per day," Abdool Karim said. "We are getting there. We are close to those thresholds."

READ MORE | Abdool Karim: SA heading to low level Covid-19 transmission threshold, but second wave threat remains

As Covid-19 hit South Africa and schools closed as a result of the lockdown, approximately 13 million pupils were affected and left without any form of adequate schooling.

This according to the Public Service Commission's (PSC) quarterly bulletin which looked at the period between 1 April and 30 June 2020.

The bulletin, titled Pulse of the Public Service, focused on governance matters in the public service sector, including service delivery during the lockdown and the overall number of complaints and grievances handled by the PSC until 30 June.

Following lockdowns by countries around the world, the adoption of remote learning was seen as the solution to schools being closed.

However, the PSC said Covid-19 exposed the glaring inequality in the education system as it became manifest in the digital divide of online learning between and within countries, including high-income countries to support online learning during school closures.

READ MORE | Lockdown left 13 million pupils without any form of adequate schooling - PSC

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) is still not paying out special coronavirus grants as it tries to verify the identity documents of those who applied over recent months.

The delay has resulted in new cut-off dates for applications for the so-called Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS).

The UIF’s process to pay out the TERS grants has been marred with irregularities.

In a new report, the auditor-general outlined various problems it found with the TERS system, including that the UIF did not sufficiently corroborate information it received from applicants.

The AG report resulted in the suspension of top UIF executives, including its commissioner Teboho Maruping.

READ MORE | All UIF corona payouts still halted as millions of IDs are checked

Between the beginning and the middle of 2020, the number of wealthy South Africans considering leaving the country shot up by nearly half, judging by the enquiries it received on "investment migration", say consultants Henley & Partners.

That is roughly in line with what the company recorded in other countries, including Pakistani and Bangladesh, and not too far from the growth in interest it recorded among Indian nationals.

But what might have been surprising before the arrival of the coronavirus – and the starkly different ways governments dealt with it – was the "huge spike in enquiries from Americans".

Looking at the numbers over the year up to the end of August, enquiries from citizens of the United States of America who are thinking about buying their way into another country rose by just under 167%, says Henley & Partners.

That comes after it recorded a dip in such enquiries, a decrease of 5.1%, by US nationals between the end of 2019 and early 2020.

READ MORE | Many more rich South Africans want to leave after Covid-19 – but not as many as in the US

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.

Early on Wednesday morning, positive cases worldwide were nearly 29.41 million, while deaths were more than 931 000.

The United States had the most cases in the world - more than 6.6 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 196 000.

READ MORE | All the confirmed cases worldwide

Latest news:

News of serious side effects in one participant of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine trial led some volunteers in Johnson & Johnson's vaccine trial in Spain to drop out, its lead investigator told Reuters on Tuesday.

Still, the trial had sufficient reserve volunteers to carry on as normal, lead investigator Alberto Borobia said.

"Many have called to ask us some more detail about the risk of the vaccine, whether what happened with that vaccine had anything to do with the one we are studying, these types of questions," Borobia said in the interview. He did not say how many people had dropped out.

This highlights the challenge for drugmakers in trialling potential vaccines to control the pandemic in enormous public scrutiny. Drugmakers often pause trials while testing drugs but they do not typically disclose that.

AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine trial was placed on hold globally on 6 September after a serious side effect was reported in a trial participant in the UK.

Trials restarted in Britain and Brazil on Monday with the go-ahead from British regulators, but remain on hold in the United States.

READ MORE | Some back out of J&J Covid-19 vaccine trial in Spain after AstraZeneca scare, lead investigator says

The United Arab Emirates has announced it approved the emergency use for healthcare workers of a coronavirus vaccine still in the final phase of human trials.

"The vaccine will be available to our first line of defence heroes who are at the highest risk of contracting the virus," tweeted the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) on Monday.

Chinese drug giant Sinopharm began the third phase of trials for a Covid-19 vaccine in the UAE in July, with Emirati officials saying the results have been positive.

"Clinical trials for the third phase are continuing under the strict supervision of medical teams, while following all measures to control the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine," said NCEMA.

"The results of clinical trials in our country are moving on the right path, with all tests being successful so far."

NCEMA said the vaccine has been tested on 31 000 volunteers and only "mild and expected" side effects have been reported, adding that 1 000 test subjects with chronic diseases showed "no complications".

READ MORE | UAE approves use of Covid-19 vaccine for health workers

A coronavirus vaccine being developed in China could be ready as early as November, according to a senior Chinese health official.

The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's chief biosafety expert, Wu Guizhen, said on Monday that one of the four vaccines being developed in the country could be ready for use as early as the winter months, according to a Reuters report.

Guizhen, told the state broadcaster CCTV on Monday: "It will be very soon. The progress is currently very smooth."

China has been giving key workers shots of an experimental coronavirus vaccine since July. Zheny Zhongei, the head of the National Health Commission (NHC) science and technology center, indicated that health workers and border officials were among those on whom the vaccine was being tested.

Guizhen said that she had taken an experimental vaccine herself in April and had experienced no adverse reaction to it.

READ MORE | China says it could have a coronavirus vaccine ready to use as early as November

LATEST RESEARCH

Results of the South African arm of the pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine trial, are likely to be delayed until early next year, the study’s chief South African investigator, Shabir Madhi says.

The research in all four countries where the study is being conducted, including South Africa, was halted last week because of an adverse reaction in one of the United Kingdom study participants.

The research, which is being carried out in the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil and South Africa, resumed in the UK on Sunday and is likely to continue in South Africa later this week after the ethics committee of the country’s regulatory body, the South African Health Products Regulator (Sahpra), has reviewed the findings of an independent safety committee appointed by AstraZeneca.

“We expected to have an answer as to whether the vaccine works or not by the end of November, but now it’s extremely unlikely,” Madhi, who is a professor of vaccinology at Wits University and the director of the South African Medical Research Council’s (SAMRC) meningeal pathogens research unit, says.

“Even though the interruption of the trial was brief, I would say that we now probably would only get an answer in the first quarter of next year.”

READ MORE | South Africa is ‘extremely unlikely’ to have Covid vaccine results before next year

A new study by a team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggested that using public transport, visiting a place of worship or otherwise travelling from the house was associated with a higher chance of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Their study was published on 2 September 2020 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and surveyed a random sample of more than 1 000 participants in Maryland in late June.

The participants were all asked about their physical distancing practices, whether they use public transportation, their SARS-CoV-2 infection history and anything else that might contribute to Covid-19 risk.

Perhaps the most important finding of the survey, was that those who frequently used public transport were more than four times more likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, while those who practised strict outdoor physical distancing where only a tenth as likely to test positive.

Looking at all the variables, the researchers concluded that spending more time in public places was more strongly associated with a history of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

READ MORE | The latest science confirms - strict physical distancing lowers the chance of contracting Covid-19

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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