264,184 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa as deaths climb to 3,971

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has announced that there are now 264,184 total cases of coronavirus in South Africa.

This is an increase of 13,497 cases from the 250,687 cases reported on Friday.

The minister announced 111 new Covid-19 related deaths, taking the total to 3,971 casualties following a high of 192 deaths on Tuesday this past week, while the minister pointed to 127,715 recoveries to date.

A total of 2.1 million tests have been conducted, with 51,338 tests conducted over the past 24 hours, Dr Mkhize said.

Globally, since 31 December 2019 and as of 11 July 2020, 12.5 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported, including 560,000 deaths.

The World Health Organisation this week said that the airborne spread of the virus may be a possibility.

However, it said that the primary form of coronavirus transmission comes from respiratory droplets passed through close contact with people who are infected, and that the only airborne transmission of the virus was in health care settings during medical procedures that generate aerosols.

The health body said that this means that crowded, poorly ventilated areas could lead to airborne transmission. Some examples include during choir practice, in restaurants or in fitness classes, the WHO said.

This acknowledgement follows a group of 239 scientists from around the world have penning an open letter to the World Health Organisation, warning of the potential dangers of the virus spreading through the air.

“There is significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets (microdroplets) at short to medium distances (up to several meters, or room scale), and we are advocating for the use of preventive measures to mitigate this route of airborne transmission,” the experts said.

“Hand washing and social distancing are appropriate, but in our view, insufficient to provide protection (from the virus).”

Locally, South Africa’s Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee head, professor Salim Abdool Karim, said that the idea that the virus exists in finer air particles is not new, and has been known for some time – but he said the real question is whether or not these particles linger in the air for a long time, and are sufficient enough to cause infection.

This needs to be tested further, he said.

“The evidence that the virus is in little droplets, is something we have known for a long time. It’s not new. That it can be spread by aerosols, it is known,” he said.

“What is an issue is whether these little droplets that float stay in the air for a long time? And do they actually cause infection? That is an unanswered question.”

He said South Africa already works on the basis that the virus can be spread by aerosols, but he wouldn’t describe the virus as ‘airborne’ at this stage, saying he would want more information.

“It seems likely, but there’s a difference between likely and whether it is,” he said.

Read: What we know about Covid-19 is changing – including new symptoms and how it spreads

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264,184 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa as deaths climb to 3,971