All you need to know about COVID-19

What is COVID-19/Coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called CoronavirusThere are many different corona viruses in animals but only a small number of these can cause disease in humans. Everybody is at risk of Coronavirus infection no matter their age, race or gender. Most people who are infected will feel like they have the flu and get better after a week or so, but for some people, Coronavirus can be life-threatening. People at the most risk of getting very sick with Coronavirus are: 

  • Over 65  
  • Living with a chronic illness like diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, asthma, cancer, or high blood pressure  
  • Living with TB and not taking medication  
  • Living with HIV and not taking medication 
  • A person may have the virus and not know, and in that time s/he may infect many other people.
  • Anyone who has symptoms (see below) should isolate themselves immediately.
  • We all have a duty to protect ourselves and the people we love by doing everything we can to prevent the spread of Coronavirus infection. 

How is Coronavirus transmitted?

  • Whenever we cough, sneeze or speak we produce little droplets of fluid.
  • If someone has Coronavirus the disease is present in these droplets, which will fall on anyone standing close-by as well as surfaces like chairs or tables.
  • If those droplets are on your hands or face and you then touch your eyes, mouth or nose, the droplets will enter your body and you could be infected.
  • If a person infected with Coronavirus, who has droplets on his or her hands, touches anything, then the next person who touches that surface can pick up the droplets and become infected.
  • Droplets sit on door handles, TV remote controls, ATMs, mobile phones, pots and pans, plates, knives and forks, tables, chairs, kitchen surfaces, supermarket basket handles, toilet seats, taps, food etc.
  • The virus can also survive in poo. To prevent infection, you must clean the toilet before and after you use it if you are sharing it with anybody.

How to prevent the spread of Coronavirus

  • Support the lockdown. Stay at home and only go out to get food or medical care. This means no visits from friends and family. People over 60 or living with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease or untreated HIV or TB should avoid going out at all.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds as often as possible, and every time you go out and come home. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • It is best to stay at least two meters (three big steps) away from all people, especially in a queue.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or use your elbow (never your hands) when you cough or sneeze. Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands straight afterwards.
  • Use bleach to clean all door handles, tables, surfaces and phones and TV remotes in your house regularly. Avoid sharing plates, knives and forks.
  • If you are sharing a bathroom with someone in your home who has Coronavirus symptoms, it must be cleaned every time they use it to wash or go to the toilet.
  • If you are sharing a toilet with a lot of people, it is possible to control infection if you co-operate with each other. Try and do the following:
    • Stand at least three steps away from other people when you queue for a toilet or tap and open the door with your foot or elbow, never your hands.
    • Don’t touch the tap, toilet or door handle with your bare hands. Use newspaper or something you can wash or throw away afterwards
    • Disinfect the toilet seat and tap before and after you use it
    • Do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth until you wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Wear a non-medical mask whenever you leave your house.
  • If you are dependent on public transport, wash your hands or use sanitizer before you leave home. Stand at least three big steps apart from other people if you must queue. The taxi rank stewards should sanitize your hands before you enter the taxi. If they don’t avoid touching the door or seats with your hands. If you can, use tissues to touch the handle or seats and put them straight into a plastic bag. Avoid passing money in a taxi; try and carry the correct amount. The taxi industry should carry eight per vehicle so people can keep their distance from each other. Avoid full taxis.
  • When you are shopping stay three steps away from other people in queues. Disinfect the handles of shopping baskets and trollies and only touch the things you want to buy.

Wearing a mask

There is a shortage of medical masks in the country. A medical mask should ONLY be used by the following groups of people:

  • healthcare workers
  • caregivers of those with Coronavirus
  • people who have Coronavirus or are showing symptoms.
Making a homemade mask

If you are wearing a home-made mask, please ensure the following:

  • The mask should be made of at least two layers of fabric. If you hold the fabric up to the light and you see a lot of light through the fabric, it is not ideal as a mask.
  • You need to make sure that you can breathe comfortably through the material.
  • Make sure the mask sits close to the sides of your face so that no air and droplets can enter behind the mask
  • The mask should be held securely behind the ears with cloth ties or elastic.
  • Be careful when you remove the mask because it can have droplets of the virus on it. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing it and wash your hands immediately.
  • Wash and iron the mask each time you use it as soon as you take it off.

Making a bleach solution for cleaning surfaces

How to make a bleach solution for cleaning surfaces and bathrooms:

Mix 1 litre of water with 4 teaspoons of bleach such as JIK.

Remember to keep this away from children.

DO NOT use this on your hands.

What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?

Some of the symptoms are the same for the seasonal flu and they can vary between people. Most people who test positive for Coronavirus have some or all these symptoms:

  • A high temperature: you feel hot if you touch your forehead, chest or back. You may also have the chills: you can feel abnormally cold and then warm. If you take your temperature with a thermometer it might be high (over 38 degrees C).
  • A cough: If you usually have a cough, the virus will make it worse than usual.
  • Tiredness: You are likely to feel much more tired than usual.
  • Difficulty with breathing or shortness of breath: You may find it hard to talk or to do anything physical.
  • No sense of smell and taste: You won’t be able to taste food properly or smell anything.
  • Diarrhoea: A number of people have this if they are infected with Coronavirus.

What must I do if I have Coronavirus symptoms?

If you are worried that you have any Coronavirus symptoms stay at home and contact the free hotline (National Coronavirus Hotline 0800 029 999). They are getting a lot of calls so keep trying if you can’t get through. You will be told whether or not you should test for the virus and where to go. Only go to your nearest health facility if you are struggling to breathe, have bad chest pains or cannot cope with your symptoms. If you are living with someone in a high-risk category and they show symptoms and you are concerned about them go straight to your nearest hospital or clinic.  

Call centre numbers:

  • National Coronavirus Hotline: 0800 029 999.
  • Mpumalanga MEC Hotline: 0800111151
  • Right to Care Helpline: 0106120114
  • Coronavirus WhatsApp Helpline: +27 600 123 456. Add the number to your phone and type the word ‘Hi’ and you will get a response.

Managing Coronavirus at home

The majority of people who have Coronavirus will have mild to bad flu and will get better as their immune system develops the ability to fight the virus. The Department of Health is setting up isolation facilities around the country. If you live in a crowded environment, you can call the National Coronavirus Hotline 0800 029 999 to arrange access to a facility near you. If you are staying at home, the following advice can help:

  • Tell the hotline the details of everyone you have been in contact with over the last 14 days so that they can contact them to avoid them infecting others. This will save many others from getting the disease and can save lives.
  • Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds as often as possible.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with your elbow or a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • Rest as much as possible.
  • Drink a lot of water so that your pee is pale and clear.
  • Eat what you can
  • Take paracetamol pain killers to ease the symptoms. The best Paracetamol brand available is Panado. Avoid Grandpa and Nurofen.
  • Stay two metres (3 steps) away from everyone in your house if you can.
  • Wear a mask when you are close to others.
  • Open windows if you have to share spaces.
  • Avoid using shared spaces, such as kitchens or bathrooms, at the same time as each other.
  • Clean a shared bathroom each time you use it, by wiping all surfaces you have touched with a disinfectant or soapy water.
  • Clean objects and surfaces you often touch (like door handles, TV remotes, kettles, pots and pans and your phone) using disinfectant or soapy water.
  • Wash and dry all plates, dishes and cutlery thoroughly after you have used them
  • Everybody should wash their own clothes in very hot water with soap.
  • If possible, do not share a bed, and wash bedding frequently with very hot water and soap.
  • Sleep as far away as you can from others if you have to share a room.
  • Do not share towels, including hand towels and dish cloths. Wash all towels with very hot water and soap.

Coronavirus and other diseases

If you are living with any chronic disease you are at risk of becoming very sick if you are infected with Coronavirus if the disease is not under control. If you are taking medication it is vital to continue treatment.

People with diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, asthma, cancer, or high blood pressure should protect themselves as much as possible from catching Coronavirus, and call the hotline if they are worried.

Tuberculosis (TB)

TB attacks the lungs and people living with TB who are not on treatment are at great risk of becoming very ill if they are infected with Coronavirus.  If you have TB, or you think you may have TB or have a close contact who is living with TB call the Coronavirus Helpline or go to your nearest hospital or clinic to have a test. Start medication immediately if you are positive. Taking TB medication gives you the best chance of beating Coronavirus if you are infected.


If you know you are living with HIV, take your ARVs every day. This will strengthen your immune system and empower you to fight Coronavirus if you are infected. 

If you are virally suppressed, which means you have a very small amount of HIV in your blood, you may be able to pick up your ARVs from Collect + Go in your community. Ask if you qualify for Collect + Go next time you go to the clinic. Please call the AIDS Helpline 0800 012 322 if you need more information.

If you have stopped your ARVS for any reason, please go to the clinic immediately and start again. This could make the difference between life and death for you, because your immune system will be weak if you are infected with Coronavirus and you may not be able to fight it.

If you don’t know your status and think you may be at risk of HIV, please test immediately and start ARVS if you are positive. You are at risk of HIV is you have more than one sexual partner and don’t always use a condom.

Remember: if anyone in your household has a chronic disease please support them to take their medication and make sure that they do not run out.

Living under lockdown

Lockdown is a new situation for all of us and most of us are fearful and worried about money. Many of us are struggling to stay at home in the required times but we have to if we want to stop the spread of Coronavirus.  The best way to manage lockdown is:

  • Try and structure your day, especially if you have children. Spend time reading, playing and doing lessons if you can.
  • Be patient with children – this is a big change for them too.
  • Try and give everyone in the house time out.
  • Stay informed and avoid fake news. The South African government is providing daily briefings to keep us up-to-date.
  • Stay in touch with people you care about.
  • If you can, exercise in the house. There are a lot of good You Tube videos offering exercise for people under lockdown, and the government website has a good exercise link.
  • Learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing to stay calm.
  • There is a list of numbers below that offer financial or food support.
  • The South African Anxiety and Depression Group is particularly useful at this time. Their 24hr Helpline number is 0800 456 789.

Violence in the home

There has been an increase of reports of gender-based violence since the start of lockdown. Learn to recognise the triggers that create tension between yourself and your partner or children and avoid them. Remember that children who grow up in violent homes are highly likely to become perpetrators or victims of violence, so protect the people you love as much as you can. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be a victim or perpetrator, or if you are worried that there may be children at risk, the Gender Based Violence Command Centre is open 24/7 and has counsellors who speak all South African languages. Call 080 042 8428 for help. 

Facts and myths about coronavirus

There are so many myths and misconceptions about coronavirus at the moment. It’s necessary to sort facts from fiction during this outbreak so we have compiled a list of some of the most common fake news 

Fake: The swabs used to take mouth and nose tests for coronavirus will give you coronavirus 

Fact: The swabs come in sealed sterile packages, and are opened just before they are used to test people for coronavirus. They have not been tampered with and cannot give you coronavirus. 

Fake: South Africans don’t need to worry about coronavirus because we’ve had BCG vaccines. 

Fact: BCG vaccines are given to babies in South Africa since 1973 to reduce mortality from TB. There is no evidence that they provide any protection against coronavirus This rumour started when researchers looked at data from 178 countries and found that the countries which are worst affected, do not have routine BCG vaccinations.  This is interesting, however, there are many other reasons that these countries may have different numbers of coronavirus cases, including the fact that this virus is spreading in different countries at different times.  We do not know if any of the differences are due to BCG vaccines or not. 

Fake: Masks prevent you from getting coronavirus 

Fact:  Dr Zweli Mkhize, our health minister has stated, “Wearing masks is important. We want to recommend widespread use of masks. We are recommending that people can use cloth masks, just make sure there’s at least three layers of material.” If you wear a mask it will reduce the chance of your spreading coronavirus when you speak, cough or sneeze, however, there is no evidence that homemade or material masks offer any protection to you from getting coronavirus from someone else.  So, don’t think that if you are wearing a material mask, then you are not at risk. You still need to protect yourself by avoiding people, not touching surfaces which might be contaminated and washing your hands well and regularly.  If you have a material mask, it must be washed with detergent every day.   

No-one should be wearing a medical mask if they are not sick, as these need to be saved for nurses and doctors in clinics and hospitals.  If healthcare workers don’t have enough masks, they will get coronavirus and there will be no one to look after the people who are sick. If you are sick and coughing, then you should also wear a clean medical mask which a healthcare worker can give you to protect the people around you.   

Fake: Gloves protect you from getting coronavirus  

Fact: It is often better not to wear gloves at all and to wash your hands with soap and water after touching anything and definitely before touching your face or touching food.  If you wear gloves and touch one thing and then another, you will just spread coronavirus from one thing to another.  You would need to have enough pairs of gloves to change them after each time you touch something.  You cannot rewear dirty gloves, as coronavirus can stay on the gloves for more than 8 hours. 

Fake: Only white people get coronavirus 

FactEveryone is susceptible to coronavirus. All ages, genders, races, and cultures living in South Africa can get it. It isimilar to flu, in that all humans can get it. 

Fake: Chloroquine and ARVs treat or prevent coronavirus. 

Fact: No treatment has yet proven to work effectively on coronavirus. In some studies chloroquine and ARVs have shown some benefit but in other studies they have not. More studies are needed.  Trials are ongoing and will be performed in South Africa as well as many other countries in the world.   

Fake: Only people like that get coronavirus. It’s because of them that we are suffering. 

Fact: There is nothing to be embarrassed about if you get coronavirus and no reason to judge people who get coronavirus.  Anyone can get it as it does not discriminate between race, culture, gender or nationality. You wouldn’t discriminate against someone who gets a cough or flu, why would you discriminate against someone who gets coronavirus? 

Fake: There’s no treatment, so you can never get better if you get coronavirus. 

Fact: There is no specific treatment currently, but around 98% of people will recover as their own immune systems will fight the virus. However, about 20% of people will need to go to hospital for extra support and oxygen.   

Fake: People with HIV will die from coronavirus.   

Fact: We do not know exactly how people with HIV will respond to coronavirus as there have not been sufficient cases worldwide yet, but the South African medical fraternity believes that HIV infected people who are taking their ARVs and have suppressed viral load and good CD4 count should cope as well as people without HIV.  If you want to know your HIV status, you can go to your healthcare facility to test, even during lockdown.  

Fake: Coronavirus won’t affect people living in hot climates. 

Fact:  This is untrue as people in South Africa have become infected with coronavirus even when the weather has been hot.   

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