latest: coronavirus in South Africa
Throughout the coronavirus crisis and the lockdown period, the Mail & Guardian will be updating this page several times a day with the latest information and advice from government and healthcare experts around the world.
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What does phase 3 mean?
On 24 May, President Ramaphosa confirmed that the country will be entering Phase 3 of lockdown on 1 June. That means public servants must return to work, and most retail can re-open. Restaurants, bars, accommodation and air travel remain restricted, but people can now exercise any time of the day. Alcohol will be sold for home consumption, but tobacco remains banned. Hotspots – where the infection rate is higher than 5 people per 100 000 population – till receive be subject to extra monitoring and support.
When should you seek medical attention?
The NICD has advised that if a person develops symptoms of Covid-19, and they have reason to believe they have been in contact with someone who has the virus, they are to self-isolate immediately and implement measures to prevent transmission.
A toll-free public hotline (0800 029 999) has been set up for people who feel sick with a fever, cough or have difficulty breathing.
Tests are only available if you are referred by a health professional. In the first instance, you should contact your GP. Public sector testing is free of charge.
“In cases where it is difficult to assess the onset of symptoms, for example in young children or the elderly, self-quarantine for 14 days after return from international travel may be considered as a precautionary measure,” the NICD’s website notes.
Screening versus testing
Health workers are currently going door-to-door screening residents for symptoms (ie. a temperature or cough). If concerned, they will prescribe a full test, which usually involves taking a swab from the nose.
According to the NICD, treatment for Covid-19 is “supportive”: there is no specific antiviral treatment available. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections, but they may be required if a bacterial secondary infection develops.
Should you wear a mask?
The current regulations say that yes, you should wear a mask when you go outside of your home. You should, however, opt for a simple cloth mask and not an N95 medical mask, supplies of which should be reserved for health professionals.
The key purpose of wearing a mask is not to prevent you catching the disease: it’s to stop you spreading it. Studies are starting to show that infected people can spread the disease when they are asymptomatic – in other words, before they start coughing.
Why not make your own mask?
What does a “national state of disaster” actually mean?
In response to the Covid-19 outbreak President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a “national state of disaster”.
Section 27 of the Disaster Management Act allows Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (the minister designated by the president) to declare a “national state of disaster” if other laws are not adequate to deal with a situation effectively.
The Act also allows the government — under section 27(2) — to make regulations to swiftly authorise the release of resources and personnel to help to deal with the disaster.
Regulations may also be passed to control the movement of people to and from the “disaster-stricken area or threatened area”.
There is also a catch-all power, allowing the government to take “other steps that may be necessary to prevent an escalation of the disaster, or to alleviate, contain and minimise the effects of the disaster”.
The Act says that these powers given to government may be used as far as is necessary to assist, protect and give relief to the public, protect property, prevent disruption and deal with the effects of the disaster.
Unlike a state of emergency, the declaration of a disaster does not need to be passed by an Act of Parliament. It also lasts longer: a state of emergency lasts 21 days but under the Disaster Management Act, a national state of disaster only lapses three months after it has been declared, and the minister may extend or shorten it by notice in the Government Gazette.
What’s it looking like in the rest of the world?
The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases reached 19 million on 6 August. The number of known recoveries passed 12 million at the same time, and the number of known deaths reached 700 000.
The US has the highest absolute number of cases, at 5 million. Qatar has one of the highest known infection rates – over 39 thousand cases per million people. Although South Africa has the fifth highest number of overall reported infections in the world, our infection rate is 9 000 per million, less than Brazil (13 400) and slightly higher than Sweden (8 000). The USA has a reported infection rate of 15 000/million right now.
So how do you protect yourself?
On its website, the WHO notes that: “The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are spread when a person with Covid-19 coughs or exhales. Other people then catch Covid-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch Covid-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with Covid-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets.”
This is why it is important to stay more than one metre away from a person who is sick, the organisation advises.
WHO lists a number of measures that can be taken to reduce your risk of infection. These include:
- Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water;
- Maintain at least a one metre distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing;
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth;
- Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately; and
- Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance.
People who are infected may show no symptoms, so it is advised that people avoid crowds during the outbreak.