Poeple wearing protective face masks walk along a street in Shanghai. Picture: AFP/NOEL CELIS
Poeple wearing protective face masks walk along a street in Shanghai. Picture: AFP/NOEL CELIS

SA  announced its first case of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, as a 38-year-old South African, returning from Italy, tested positive. He,  his wife and two children returned from Italy as part of a group of 10 people on March 1. Two days later, on March 3, he consulted his doctor and was later tested positive for the virus.               

Speaking in parliament on Thursday afternoon, health minister Zweli Mkhize warned: “I think we need to be upfront about it … Our system will be tested by the impact of coronavirus.”            Now that the virus is in SA, here are the 13 things you need to know and do.            

1. Don’t panic.               

SA was expecting the case and is prepared, with allocated private and public hospitals to quarantine patients if they need hospital care.  The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has a contact tracing plan in place to find people the patient may have come into contact with in the days since his return from Italy.  These people will be monitored and possibly quarantined.             

2.  82% of cases of Covid-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — are mild; people only experience a slight fever, fatigue and a possible cough. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there may even be more asymptomatic cases. Only about 6% of those infected need ICU care.

The vast majority of people can stay at home and get better without going near a hospital. Discovery says Covid-19 is an illness that presents in a mild form and typically resolves spontaneously. “The disease is more serious for the elderly and those living with chronic diseases, who should definitely exercise extra precaution and vigilance,” he said. 

3. Wash your hands.            

This is the best way to prevent the spread of germs, according to the  US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the NICD. Washing your hands can damage the outer envelope of a coronavirus and the spikes it uses to attach to cells in your body and infect you. Hand-washing for 20 seconds is advised. 

4. If you have symptoms like a dry cough and fever and think you may have the virus after travelling to Italy or another country with a Covid-19 outbreak, call your doctor and don’t go sit in their waiting room, says Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the SA Medical Association (Sama).   

       

“If you think you may be infected, and have travelled to an infected area, please say something before coming in to a surgery or a hospital waiting room. Then measures can be put in place to see you and prevent you from infecting other people.”             

5. Don’t be a middle-class moron.

There have already been healthy people who were in China months ago, arriving at SA labs and demanding tests. If your doctor and the NICD do not feel you need a test, do not demand one. Testing is expensive and time-consuming and must be rationed to people at risk of the virus and not the wealthy worried well. 

6. You don’t need a mask.            

We repeat: you do not need a mask. In fact, taking a mask on and off to eat and drink can mean you touch your face more often, spreading germs from your hands to your mouth. As it is, only a specific mask, the N95 respirator mask, work to prevent inhaling the tiny virus. There is a worldwide shortage of these masks. The WHO has urged people to remember patients must wear masks  to prevent them spreading the disease further. 

7. Don’t touch your face or rub your eyes with unwashed hands.            

Practise cough etiquette and cough into your elbow. Avoid shaking hands. Quit hugging.  There is some concern that Italians’ affectionate behaviour may have led to the rapid spread of the virus in that country. 

8. If you are genuinely concerned, call the NICD’s general public hotline at 0800-029-999, Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm. 

9. If the virus begins to spread widely like it has in  Italy, schools, universities, public gatherings and churches and music festivals may be closed or reduced. This could mean avoiding large gatherings and changing your behaviour for a period. 

10.  Companies need to make a plan to regularly disinfect surfaces and allow remote working of sick people where possible. 

11. Flu is still a higher risk at the moment. Discovery advises people to get a vaccine, to reduce the chance of getting flu. 

12. Disinfect surfaces that are touched regularly, including your phone, with an alcohol-based wipe.

13. A lot of how we deal with Covid-2019 is up to us changing our behaviour. If you are sick, whether it is flu or Covid-2019 or a cold, stay at home and avoid spreading germs.