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
  • The excellent AVERT site here
  • The John Hopkins university site 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 Some of the comments and or replies below may be out of date by the time you read them so please double-check any information that seems old / possibly out of date.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, think carefully about gyms. 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. 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). 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.

It is just not clear or certain at this stage. An unsatisfactory answer to such a pivotal question, but that is the truth at this stage: we are not sure.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a something new and world-changing. There has been and there is controversy around the science, the medical care, the best national and international responses, the merits of various interventions, etc.  Many counties have imposed fairly severe lock-downs and restrictions of various sorts. People have looked to governments for strong effective leadership in this unprecedented time of crisis. But it may be that one key point has been missed or overlooked somewhat…

You are in charge of you – this seemingly-obvious statement warrants some consideration. Whatever regulations we live under, there is still a large element of personal choice that remains to us. This is especially and increasingly-so, as lock-downs ease. We have choices about how much we isolate ourselves, how much we travel, how careful we are about sanitising (hands, homes, packages, etc.), how sociable we are, how we shop, etc. The virus will remain with us for a long time, perhaps indefinitely, and so we will be faced with these choices for quite some time to come. Each of us needs to weigh our need for freedom, interaction, work, travel, leisure, etc., against our willingness to risk contracting or spreading the virus. Each of us is different and each of has different levels of risk, so we each have to make our own choices here. There is really no “one decision and one choice, for all” even if the more tyrannical governments might try to suggest there is.

The “decide for yourself” idea is a reminder that there are real personal choices to be made here. The government and various authorities will make recommendations and offer advice, but will not make these choices for us (once we pass the severe lock-down levels at least). We must make choices about what level of risk we are willing to take in living our lives. We must think this through carefully. We must respect the choices of others.

We should all try to be sensible and balanced in our thinking, remembering that this is all about compromises: 100% freedom is high risk and zero risk is all but impossible to achieve, so it all comes down to choices and compromises, which we must each make.

Many people employ domestic workers, cleaners, gardeners, etc. in their homes and this does raise some concerns in the context of a pandemic like Covid-19.

It is probably true that most domestic workers are at higher risk for contracting Covid-19 than most employers of domestic workers. This is due to things like the use of public transport, overcrowded living conditions, poorer sanitation facilities, etc. It will not always be the case (there will be exceptions and there will be some employers at higher risk than their domestic workers) but as a generalization it is probably true. So many of us are unsure what to do and how to manage this risk.

We cannot tell you what to do and all of this becomes a personal choice. But we can offer a few guidelines to consider:

  • If you are very worried about coronavirus you may decide to do without your domestic-worker(s). This is a personal choice that only you can decide on.
  • It is best to see every person as a potential source of infection, at all times (with or without symptoms). This is called “universal precautions” and it means that your staff can infect you but also that you can infect your staff.
  • Nobody should work (or be in contact with anyone) if they have flu-like symptoms.
  • We should always maintain physical-distancing as much as possible.
  • Regular hand washing or sanitising is important.
  • All domestic staff should wear masks at work, and all employers should wear masks when they have domestic workers in the house.
  • A live-in domestic worker might be a low-risk option since they live with you and may be part of your own “household bubble” (this does depend on certain details like weekend and leave arrangements).

As you can see then, this comes down to common sense and balanced decision making. The very-safest approach is to do-without your staff but this may be inconvenient (or even impossible if your domestic worker is also a care-giver or child-minder) and it may mean that someone loses their job (remembering that a domestic worker is typically not highly paid and is often supporting a family). There are ways to manage and reduce the risk, but zero-risk is not possible. Most people will probably continue to employ their domestic workers, while taking sensible precautions, but is a choice for each is us to consider and  make.