The Internet is full of coronavirus content these days and we’re sure you’ve looked at many websites, videos, etc. This page does not intend to cover every possible issue and every imaginable question, but does try to highlight some of the more important and asked-about aspects. If you would like more info please consider:

  • The WHO website here
  • The SA department of health here
  • Asking us by using the COMMENTS section below

Please note that this is a brand new never-before-seen virus and our knowledge is incomplete. Research is ongoing and we learn more every day. Some of the comments and or replies below may be out of date by the time you read them so please double-check any information that seems old / possibly out of date.

Please note that this page and this website, and all the content on it, does not constitute or replace medical advice. For proper medical advice please ask your doctor or clinic and never delay seeking healthcare because of anything on this page.

Herd immunity refers to the situation when a large percentage – usually 60% or more – of a population is immune to a disease. When herd immunity exists the disease gradually declines because it finds too-few people to infect. Herd immunity is usually achieved through mass-infection (where infection confers immunity, which is usually the case with viral illnesses – it is not yet certain that this IS the case with coronavirus) or through vaccination (vaccines confer immunity and when given to over 60% of the population, herd immunity results).

Wearing gloves to reduce spread of coronavirus is, on the face of it, a good idea because gloves create a barrier between your hands/skin and anything you touch. But the virus will live on the gloves so anything you touch (e.g. your face, your keys, packages, etc.) can become infected with virus. Because you may feel “safe” wearing gloves you might not realise that you could have spread the virus from your gloved hands. It is also true that you’re less likely to wash or sanitise gloved hands. On balance gloves are not very helpful for most of us and we’d be better advised to just wash our hands as often as possible.

Face masks reduce the spread of virus from an infected person and also offer some protection to uninfected persons. But many people use masks incorrectly and this can actually make matters worse. It is important to fit your mask on with clean newly-washed hands. Your mask should cover your nose and mouth and be as close-fitting as is comfortable. Once your mask is on you should NEVER touch it. Never. Your mask should be ON or OFF, not dangling half-on and half-off. When it is time to remove the mask you should do so by touching only the straps or elastics, not the mask itself (this is one of the reasons that bandannas do not make great pandemic masks). You should immediately dispose of the mask (single use type) or wash it (reusable type), and then  wash your hands. These techniques take a bit of getting-used-to and so it’s a good idea to actually practice at home.

We know that coronavirus can live for up to 3 days on some surfaces and so many people prefer to disinfect any and all packages coming into the home. It’s important to say that the risk of coronavirus spread from packages is really quite low – most spread is person to person through coughing, sneezing, and even just breathing (when in close contact). Nonetheless, disinfecting packages does add some safety and many people are doing it.

Ideally you should disinfect packages outside the home, at the front door or in the garage or somewhere similar. You can also disinfect on a counter if you take careful note of all surfaces the possibly-infected packages may have touched, and disinfect those surfaces too. The basic idea is to have a “dirty” side and a “clean” side and you move items between the two. You can use a simple soap-and-water solution to wipe packaging or make a 2% bleach solution (a spray bottle works well here). If there are two of you, one can handle the dirty items and do the cleaning, while the other puts the clean items away. If you are solo, you’ll just need to wash your hands between handling the dirty and clean items.

Disinfecting packages is quite a chore but it is becoming part of the new-normal for many folks. It may be worthwhile, especially for those who are most vulnerable or afraid of the virus.

Smoking damages lungs and because coronavirus is a respiratory (lung) disease, we know that smokers are at increased risk of a poor outcomes (hospitalisation, ventilation, death). But it is important to note that the damage smoking does to the lungs takes years to build up in most cases. And while a smoker’s lungs do start to recover if / once they quit, this recovery takes months and years to occur and is often not a complete recovery (some of the damage is permanent). There can be no doubt that quitting smoking is a great idea for anyone afraid of coronavirus, but quitting smoking was always a good idea for a myriad of reasons. Smokers know this and presumably are willing to take the risks involved. This pandemic is a time to recommend quitting but some compassion and understanding is required: smoking is highly addictive, quitting is not easy, and smokers are adults who have made and do make adult decisions. It’s important to remember this.

There has been talk of smoking increasing the risk of transmitting the virus because of the hand-to-mouth movement involved and because smokers sometimes share cigarettes. This is certainly true but seems more an opportunity for public education (wash your hands before and after smoking; do not share) than for the banning of smoking at this time. It’s also worth noting that all forms of eating and drinking also involve hand-to-mouth movement and can involve sharing, so the issue is by no means limited to smoking.

Smoking is unhealthy. Smokers are well advised to quit. But smokers have always known this, are adults, and should be treated as adults.

The short answer is that we do not know, yet. Let’s explain….

Mortality rate is the number of deaths divided by the TOTAL number of infections. The total number of infections is not the same as the total number of reported infections. Because coronavirus testing capacity is limited, we have not been able to test large enough numbers of people to know how many people are actually infected in an area or in a population. Put another way: because tests are precious we tend to use them for those at most risk and those with symptoms, and the results from such groups will be higher (more positives) than in the general population. For this reason we are not sure about how many people are infected and so we are not sure about the true mortality rate.

We do know that influenza, or seasonal flu, has a mortality rate of around 0.1% (1 person in 1000 infected persons dies). Preliminary research suggests that the mortality rate for coronavirus is around 1-2%, but we will not be sure about this for some time.

Don’t be confused by just looking at the number of deaths divided by the number of positive cases – the figures most commonly shown on TV. This can give you the CRUDE mortality rate and it is usually around 5% depending on factors like quality-of-healthcare. But this is not the TRUE mortality, for the reasons explained above – the true mortality rate will be lower than this.

Coronavirus is more deadly that influenza but we do not yet know exactly how much more deadly.

This is a hugely important question in South Africa. HIV weakens immunity and we know that HIV-positive people can be at increased risk of various infections, so there is real concern about coronavirus and HIV. There are some 7-8 million South Africans living with HIV, with 60-65% on treatment.

There has not been enough research to provide a definite answer to this question but most experts believe that a person with HIV who is well treated (on ARVs, CD4 count normal, virally suppressed) is unlikely to be at increased risk. But an untreated or poorly treat HIV-positive person is very likely to be at increased of contracting Covid-19 and of having a poor outcome.

The message is clear: get onto treatment if you have HIV. If you are on treatment, stay on treatment (go to the clinic, have regular blood check, etc.).

No. At least, we are pretty sure the answer is no. This is a brand new virus so it it is difficult to be absolutely 100% certain on some matters. That said, no similar respiratory viruses have ever been known to spread through breast milk. There have been no confirmed reports of coronavirus spreading through breast milk. Breast milk is significantly better for baby than any other milk, most especially in impoverished or vulnerable groups. The WHO recommends that mothers continue to breastfeed during the pandemic.

A long time. It is likely that the world will battle this virus for several years, until worldwide herd immunity is established or some medical breakthrough is made. Most experts suggest that this will be a 2-3 year pandemic. For these reasons it is important for us all to understand that we have to adapt how we live and how we behave, and that this is a long-term thing (not just during lockdown). Social distancing, hand washing, face-mask-wearing etc are likely to be with us for years.

Not really. In theory going out for exercise might expose us to the virus more than if we stayed indoors at home. But the benefits of exercise, both mentally and physically, almost certainly outweigh the small risks. Yes, be careful. Yes, avoid groups. Yes, avoid gyms for now at least. But solo exercise or exercise with your own household, is a great idea at any time, and it is a great idea in these times too. It’s worth remembering that this pandemic will be with us for years, so we have to find ways to live WITH it, and exercise is a good example of something we need to continue, albeit safely and with some small-ish changes perhaps.

There are basically two types of coronavirus test:

  1. Test for the virus – this test looks for the actual virus. It usually requires a swab of the nose and throat (where virus is found) and the results usually take a few days using current methods. This is the text in use currently. A positive virus test indicates the the person has active live coronavirus in their body (they may be ill or have mild symptoms or have no symptoms, but they do have the virus).
  2. Test for antibodies. When a person has been infected with coronavirus they produce antibodies to help fight the virus. These antibodies stay in the body after the active infection has gone (we are not yet sure for how long the antibodies remain, but months or years seems likely). Antibodies usually confer immunity / protection against repeat infection, although this is not yet certain regarding coronavirus. A positive antibody tests indicates that the person has had coronavirus infection in the past, and may indicate that they have immunity (not yet certain). Antibody tests are starting to be used in some countries as at mid may 2020. IF antibodies are shown to confer immunity this test will be crucial in helping people decide about safety at work and in public, etc.

This is one of the key questions: does coronavirus infection confer immunity and therefore protection from repeat infection. The short answer is that we do not know. Most similar viral infections do confer a degree of immunity (partial or full immunity). We do know that a recovered coronavirus patient does have antibodies (antibodies fight specific infections and are part of the body’s immune system). Depending on who you listen to, there have been no or very few genuine cases of repeat coronavirus infection so far. Many experts consider it likely or even very likely that coronavirus does confer at least partial immunity, and on the balance of information available, this seems a reasonable view. But it is not certain at this stage. An unsatisfactory answer to such a pivotal question, but that is the truth at this stage: we are not sure.

This question concerns many South Africans. It raises a  number of issues and concerns and uncertainties, and risks. Each of us must make our own decisions but the following can be said:

  • The choice to have, or not to have, your domestic worker return to work, is yours. Each of us will make our own decisions here.
  • Your domestic worker also has choices, and rights: he or she cannot be forced to work and is entitled to a reasonably safe workplace.
  • If you have a domestic worker in your home, there will be some risk, to you and to your worker. You can manage the risk and you can reduce the risk, but there will always be some risk. Everyone should be clear on this subtle but important point.
  • It may be true that your domestic worker is at more risk of contracting, and spreading, coronavirus than you are (e.g. crowded home circumstances, use of public transport, etc.). But it is by no means always the case and might be seen as prejudiced thinking – a better approach is to see every person and every person-to-person interaction as a risk. This is similar to the notion of “universal precautions” that we applied, and still apply, in relation to HIV.
  • No workers should come to work if they have any suspicious symptoms (fever, cough, breathing problems, flu-like feelings). Similarly, you should not have anyone work in your home if you have suspicious symptoms.
  • The basic approach to reducing risk is fairly clear: maintain distance as much as possible, wear masks, wash hands frequently, regularly disinfect all surfaces and things you touch (door handles, railings, etc.).
  • In your own home, things like maintaining distance and wearing masks may be a bit challenging, but we’ll all have to find ways to make this work: it’s part of the new-normal.
  • It is the employer’s responsibility to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). In a domestic-work home scenario, this really comes down to masks and hand-washing supplies (soap, water, personal towels or paper towels) although there may also be some merit in aprons or dust-coats or similar. Gloves are debatable and in most circumstances, probably not a good idea (please see FAQ elsewhere on this page).

Caution and common sense and mutual respect are the guiding principles here, as we all learn to live with this virus, and each other, in the new-normal.