Coronavirus in South Africa: Get the facts.
Coronavirus: The basics
What is COVID-19?
The newly identified coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV 2. First identified in China in December, 2019, COVID-19 has infected thousands of people around the world.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses (illnesses of the lungs) and include the common cold. The word ‘corona’ is Latin for ‘crown’; these viruses were named for the crown-like spikes scientists can see when viewing them under an electron microscope.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19 are difficult to distinguish, as they present symptoms like other coronaviruses that are similar to those of the common cold. People with confirmed cases have reportedly had mild-to-severe respiratory illness with the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Symptoms may occur up to 2 weeks after exposure
What are the basic steps you can take to protect yourself from COVID-19?
While the spread of the new coronavirus, or the COVID-19 virus, is now a serious health concern in South Africa, there are several simple and effective steps you can take to protect yourself, your family and others from infection.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes
- Stay at home as much as you can
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
Who is most at risk of getting the COVID-19 virus?
Initially, recent travellers to countries experiencing a coronavirus outbreak had the highest risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. These now include countries across Europe, the United Kingdom, Iran, Japan, the United States of America, and China, with more and more countries continuing to announce infections as the pandemic spreads across the globe.
While absolutely anyone who comes into contact with this new type of coronavirus can contract it, people with weakened immune systems, those who have underlying health conditions – such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease – and the elderly face the highest risk of developing moderate to very severe symptoms if they get it.
How can you protect yourself from the Coronavirus?
Wash your hands frequently
Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. The Covid-19 virus spreads via tiny droplets from infected people when they sneeze or cough. These droplets land on surfaces and if you touch those surfaces and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, the virus may enter your body.
Careful handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way of preventing infection, but if you don’t have access to soap and water or are on the go, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Keep your distance
The South African government is currently advising ‘social distancing’ or avoiding unnecessary contact with people in public spaces. When you do need to be out and about, maintain at least one metre from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
The Covid-19 virus is carried in tiny droplets in the coughs and sneezes of infected people. If you are close enough to breathe in these droplets when someone coughs or sneezes, you could become infected.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
This step may be simple but it’s not necessarily easy. We touch our faces unconsciously, more often than we realise. Start by becoming aware of the impulse to touch your face and identify why you’re doing it. Is it merely a habit or do you have an itch? The more awareness you can develop, the better you’ll get at stopping yourself.
If you do catch yourself touching your face, don’t panic. If you are washing your hands regularly in the circumstances described in step 1, you have already reduced your risk of infection. Strive to become more mindful of your face-touching triggers and you will get better over time.
Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing
You might have been taught to cough or sneeze into your closed fist but now is the time to change this habit. Rather than using your hand, use a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Then remember to wash your hands with soap and water, and to dispose of the tissue immediately.
This prevents the virus spreading directly to others via droplets or indirectly via droplets on your hands that then contaminate any surfaces you touch.
If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early
This will not only protect you and help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections. If you suspect you might have the COVID-19 virus, call your healthcare provider. Calling ahead prevents you from spreading – or being the infected by – the coronavirus and allows your healthcare provider to direct you to the right facility.
Call the Department of Health’s 24-hour coronavirus hotline: 0800 029 999
Clean and disinfect high use surfaces
While routine cleaning is merely about removing dirt, disinfecting is about killing pathogens such as the COVID-19 virus. Scientists have found that the coronavirus can live on certain surfaces, such as plastic and stainless steel, for up to three days.
Pay special attention to ‘high-touch’ areas such as doorknobs, taps, light switches and remote controls. The first step is to clean the surface by wiping it down with soapy water or a regular cleaning product on a cloth. Then apply a disinfecting product – the label should indicate that it kills bacteria and viruses.