What is COVID-19?

Human Coronaviruses are common throughout the world. There
are many different coronaviruses identified in animals but only a small number
of these can cause disease in humans.

On 7 January 2020, ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus
2’ (SARS-CoV-2) was confirmed as the causative agent of ‘Coronavirus Disease
2019’ or COVID-19. The majority of the case-patients initially identified were
dealers and vendors at a seafood, poultry and live wildlife market in China.
Since then, the virus has spread to more than 100 countries, including South

Who is most at risk?

Currently, travellers to areas where there is ongoing
sustained transmission of COVID-19 including Mainland China (all provinces),
Hong Kong, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Italy and the
Islamic Republic of Iran are at greatest risk of infection.

Furthermore, the elderly, individuals with co-morbidities
and healthcare workers have been found to be at a higher risk of death.

How is it transmitted?

While the first cases probably involved exposure to an
animal source, the virus now seems to be spreading from person-to-person.

The spread of the disease is thought to happen mainly via
respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,
similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. Thus far, the
majority of cases have occurred in people with close physical contact to cases
and healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have
included mild to severe respiratory illness with cough, sore throat, shortness
of breath or fever.

The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is
still not fully clear. Reported illnesses have ranged from infected people with
little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying.

How is COVID-19 treated?

Treatment is supportive (providing oxygen for patients with
shortness of breath or treating a fever, for example). To date, there is no
specific antiviral treatment available. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections.
However, antibiotics may be required if a bacterial secondary infection

How can you prevent infection?

The following can provide protection against infection from
Coronaviruses and many other viruses that are more common in South Africa:

  • Wash
    your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and
    water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid
    touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid
    close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay
    at home when you are sick and try and keep a distance from others at home.
  • Cover
    your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or a tissue, then throw the
    tissue in the bin.
  • Clean
    and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What we are doing in South Africa?

 On 23 March 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa
announced a new measure to combat the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in
South Africa – a three-week nationwide lockdown with severe restrictions on
travel and movement, supported by the South African National Defence Force –
from midnight on Thursday, 26 March, to midnight on Thursday, 16 April. The
President said more needed to be done to avoid “an enormous catastrophe” among
the population.

In essence, this meant people would only be allowed to leave
their homes to buy food, seek medical help or under other extreme

The lockdown follows government regulations that limited
public gatherings, travel from high-risk countries and the sale of alcohol.

In addition, borders were closed to reduce the rate of
infection from those travelling into South Africa from other countries. A
quarantine was also enforced on inbound travellers and returning citizens.

Latest measures

On Wednesday, 1 April, Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize,
launched 60 new mobile laboratories to boost the country’s capacity to test for

The sampling and testing units, procured by the National
Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), will be deployed nationwide to all priority
districts and metros.

10,000 community health care workers will be deployed across
the country for door-to-door household screening. Each province has been
requested to start working on this strategy by deploying provincial community
healthcare workers, with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, to undertake
a house-to-house programme of “no-touch” screening for Covid-19 symptoms and to
refer symptomatic people to clinics for testing.

In addition, PEPFAR-funded District Support Partners have
been instructed to support provinces in this programme.

South Africa currently has the capacity to conduct 5,000
tests for COVID-19 daily. However, with the addition of mobile testing units,
combined with 180 testing sites and 320 testing units across the country, this
number will now increase six-fold.

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