Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has announced that there are now confirmed 24,264 cases of coronavirus in South Africa.

This is an increase of 649 cases from the 23,615 cases reported on Monday, while the country recorded its highest 24-hour increase in infections – 1,240 cases – on Sunday.

Dr Mkhize said on Tuesday (26 May), that the total number of deaths has now reached 524 – an increase of 43 deaths from 481 reported before. There have been 12,741 been recoveries.

The minister said that 605,991 tests have been conducted, with 9,214 tests in the past 24-hour cycle.

Globally, coronavirus cases topped 5.6 million globally on Tuesday, while deaths have exceeded 348,000, with more than 2.4 million recoveries.

Novavax jumped 17% before the open on Tuesday after initiating testing of its coronavirus vaccine candidate in people. The biotech anticipates providing a first look in July at what sort of immune responses are generated, Bloomberg reported.

In the first part of the study, 130 healthy adult volunteers at two sites in Australia will get two doses of NVX-CoV2373, the biotech’s experimental vaccine.

If the initial results look promising, the company plans to quickly move into the second phase of the trial, which would expand testing to other countries and age groups outside of 18 to 59.

Novavax’s valuation has swelled by more than 1,000% to about $2.7 billion since the start of the year despite having no products on the market.

With about $388 million in funding from the Oslo-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in its pocket, Novavax has said it is targeting emergency-use authorization and production could be scaled up to 100 million doses by year end.

The Gaithersburg, Maryland-based company is one of an estimated 10 that have begun testing vaccines for the pandemic in people, according to the World Health Organisation.

WHO estimates there are more than 100 other vaccine candidates in earlier stages of development. Moderna Inc reported the first Covid-19 vaccine results in humans last week.

Smaller vaccine developers are racing alongside larger, profitable drugmakers like Pfizer Inc, AstraZeneca Plc. as well as academic institutions.

Even if a vaccine is eventually shown to be effective, there will be hurdles to manufacturing as well as distribution, Bloomberg said.

Testing kits

South Africa has reported a marked decline in coronavirus tests in the last 24 hours because of a global shortage in testing kits, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said.

Presenting to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Tuesday (26 May), Mkhize said that in the last 24 hours around 12,000 tests have been conducted. However, he noted that in each of the two days prior, more than 20,000 tests were conducted.

“The decline here is occasioned by the world shortage of supply (of testing kits). We are now running into difficulties with various suppliers not being able to meet our demands.

“The whole world is trembling to get laboratory kits and so we are starting to get squeezed now.”

Mkhize said that it would lead to a lot of backlogs – some of which is already being seen in the country. He added that the government would now have to adapt its targeted testing strategy and look at clinical judgements as it deals with more cases.

“I think we need society to understand that this is now becoming a constraint. It’s not so much our capacity but rather whether global suppliers respond to our requests. Everybody in the world is looking for exactly the same thing.”

Read: South Africa is running out of coronavirus testing kits: Mkhize