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Why we must slow down the spread of Covid-19 urgently

WWF works for the good of both people and nature – which is why we have put together this science-based information pack on Covid-19 for you to read and share.

Read and share a shortened version of this Covid-19 info pack in isiXhosa, isiZuluSeSotho and Afrikaans.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) works for the good of both people and nature.

As part of our mandate as a science-based organisation, we have compiled this document using reputable sources and guidance from health professionals to help us through the challenging weeks ahead. We realise that as this is a fast-moving situation and this document will need to be updated from time to time.

Covid-19 is a novel virus. We have neither a vaccine nor tailor-made drugs designed to treat it. Experience has shown that it may result in fatalities if immune-compromised and vulnerable age groups, especially those with underlying health conditions, become infected in our society. Social conditions where many people are crowded together at home and on public transport also make it easier for the virus to spread.

This is why our first line of defence against the virus is to slow down its spread to give our hospitals and clinics a chance to cope. This is called “flattening the curve”. Our government has followed World Health Organisation (WHO) advice in acting quickly but South Africa has unique challenges.


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. Covid-19 emerged from a seafood, poultry and live wild animal market in China. Since then, it has spread to more than 100 countries including South Africa, leading to the WHO declaring it a pandemic (a disease prevalent throughout the world).

Who is most at risk?
The elderly, individuals with weakened immune systems and healthcare workers have been found to be at a higher risk of death.

What about children?
The disease is very mild in children but they can pass on the infection which makes it important to keep them away from people who are at risk (see above).

How is it transmitted?
Whilst the first cases probably involved exposure to an animal source, the virus is now spreading from person to person via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets may land on surfaces which can become a point of infection.

What are the symptoms?
Current symptoms include mild to severe respiratory illness with cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, or fever. The complete clinical picture is still not fully clear. Reported illness have ranged from infected people with little to no symptoms (asymptomatic) to people severely ill and dying (symptomatic).

How is it 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. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections. However, antibiotics may be required if a bacterial secondary infection develops.
(Source: Department of National Health website: sacoronavirus.co.za)

What do we mean by flattening the curve?
This is the difference between a sudden spike in infections which will overwhelm our healthcare system (as illustrated in the graph below) and a slower rate of infection which gives us a better chance of providing care for those who most need it so that we can save lives. To flatten the curve, everybody has to work together. It means that everyone should aim to limit their social interactions and keep their distance from each other – this is called social distancing.

Source for graph: sciencelive.com

VOX media explains the principle of flattening the curve very clearly in this video: https://www.vox.com/videos/2020/3/16/21182196/fight-coronavirus-social-distancing-flatten-curve

Is that why our government has implemented a lockdown?
Yes. By closing down communal gathering spaces we limit the amount of contact we have with others. In this way we are able to reduce the risk of passing on the virus (often unwittingly). Measures to achieve this include:

  • Remote working
  • Closing public spaces
  • Closing schools, crèches, early childhood development centres, and universities
  • Cancelling events
  • Limiting travel
  • Implementing a national lockdown which limits movement

What businesses will still be open during the lockdown?

  • pharmacies
  • ​laboratories
  • banks
  • essential finance systems
  • supermarkets
  • petrol stations
  • healthcare providers
  • companies involved in making or distributing food, basic goods, and medical supplies

How can we prevent infections spreading?

  • Wash your hands frequently (see more later on this) or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser, especially after touching surfaces in public spaces
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, without washing your hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay at home when you are sick
  • Try to keep a distance from others at home and outside
  • Practice cough etiquette – cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • ​Social distancing

What is the best way to practice social distancing on a personal level?

  • Keep a distance of two metres (6 feet) from people who may be infected (which could be anyone)
  • Do not shake hands
  • ​Limit non-essential trips outside the home

I hear it’s just like flu so why should I be concerned if I’m not in a risk group?
If you are young and healthy, you still have a responsibility to stop spreading the virus which could affect your parents, grandparents, colleagues, friends and fellow South Africans. Our country has high numbers of people who are HIV positive or have TB, who are all at risk. You don’t want to be the person putting others at risk by behaving as if nothing has changed.

Can we really beat this virus just by washing our hands?
Your hands are loaded weapons containing germs. Proper hand washing has been shown to be the most effective way of getting rid of the virus which can live for a long time on surfaces such as plastic and metal. If you don’t have soap, you can use hand sanitiser with at least 70% alcohol.

What’s the right way to wash my hands?

  1. Wet your hands and use some soap to create a “bubble glove”.
  2. Lather your hands with the soap for at least 20 seconds (not under running water).
  3. Make sure you rub between your fingers and use your finger tips to scrub your inner palms.
  4. Flush the soap off your hands with running water once you’ve finished
  5. Also see WHO hand washing technique

How often should I clean my hands?
The advice is as often as possible, but especially when you are out in public spaces, when you return home, before and after preparing food and after going to the toilet. 

This VOX video uses UV light explains the science behind why soap kills off the virus:

What about touching my face?
The virus gets into your system via your mouth, nose and eyes which is why you should avoid touching your face as much as possible. This is difficult as many of us do this subconsciously which brings us back to the importance of keeping our hands clean at all times.

What about people living in communities without any running water?
Access to potable drinking water is a challenge in parts of our country – but there are simple devices made out of plastic bottles of various sizes that can be used to create effective hand washing stations.

What other methods can I use to stop passing on the virus?
You should wipe down surfaces that are used a lot in with disinfectant, as Covid-19 is a droplet infection.
A care home in Mfuleni is supplying carers a little cloth in a small container filled with disinfectant solution properly made from bleach and water, and suggests they wipe any public places that worry them, such as taxi handles, rails etc.

Here’s how to make a strong bleach cleaner.

A tip from Australia is that if you can't find anti-bacterial wipes for wiping down steering wheels, keyboards etc., you can also use a cloth soaked in methylated spirit and keep it in a Ziploc bag to carry with you.

What happens if you think you’re sick?
When should you self-isolate? When should you seek a Covid-19 test? What should you do at home to keep others around you safe. These are some of the questions troubling many of us. The answers below could change, so please check in for the latest information with government advisories from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

What’s the current process for getting a Covid-19 test?
If you have flu-like symptoms:

  1. Self-isolate and stay at home. It will probably follow the course of normal flu so treat in the normal way with fluids, rest and paracetamol
  2. If you think you might need a test, call your doctor. Do not go to the practice until you've spoken to them on the phone
  3. You can also call the national public number 0800 029 999 for advice
  4. Currently (but this may change) you only need a test if you have symptoms AND have either travelled in the past three weeks outside of Africa OR been in close contact with a KNOWN  case that has tested positive or has had an inconclusive test OR you are a health worker and have worked with known cases
  5. Tests are free if you meet the above case definition
  6. Close contact means face to face contact in a closed environment, and includes all who live in the same house or work in the same environment
  7. If you are tested before you have symptoms and after being exposed to a Covid-19 case, this may return a false negative result because you are still in the early stages of the infection. It is important not to seek a test too early

Is it useful to wear a mask?
You are advised to wear a mask if you think you might risk passing an infection on to somebody else but we must also be sure not to use up precious supplies that medical staff need. If you are caring for somebody with Covid-19 you are advised to combine wearing a mask with frequent hand cleaning. These masks should be disposed of properly. Masks can also be a source of infection if they are not used properly. Watch this WHO video on the use of masks.

Even if I don’t have any symptoms, what should I do when self-isolating?

  • Try to keep 2 metres (3 steps) away from each other
  • Avoid using shared spaces, such as kitchens or bathrooms, at the same time as each other
  • Open windows in shared spaces if you can
  • Clean a shared bathroom each time you use it, for example by wiping the surfaces you have touched
  • Use a dishwasher if you have one – if you do not have one, use washing-up liquid and warm water and dry everything thoroughly


  • Share a bed, if possible
  • Share towels, including hand towels and tea towels

 (Source: National Health Service, UK: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/self-isolation-advice/

How do I care for someone who may have Covid-19?
Discovery Health has put together this advisory based on advice from the WHO taking South Africa’s local conditions into account.

What drugs should I take to control my symptoms at home?
Current advice is to use paracetamol for fever. There is some concern that ibuprofen (anti-inflammatories) may make matters worse


The local economy is likely to be hardest hit as people avoid contact with those they would normally see on a daily basis. This affects everyone from domestic workers to hospitality staff to spaza shop owners and more. This economically vulnerable workforce will need to be looked after to lessen impacts as much as possible. If we work together there is hope that our businesses and workplaces will continue to function – keeping us financially and economically secure. 

How will the health crisis impact my workplace?
Your work life is likely to be affected in a variety of ways. There might be radical changes in operations, such as shorter shifts, flexitime or work-from-home arrangements. There might also be complete shut-downs and possible retrenchments. It will depend on your industry and the level of continuity planning your workplace has been able to achieve. This is why it is important to have a strong communication plan in place to keep staff informed with relevant and accurate information.
See: Department of Labour: https://www.gov.za/speeches/companies-facing-distress-17-mar-2020-0000

I have been told by my boss that there is a risk of shut-down and me losing my job. What can I do?
Retrenchments are a very realistic and worst-case possibility for employees in many industries, for example the retail and manufacturing sectors, mining, hospitality and tourism and more. Domestic workers and gardeners face a similar risk, which is why employers are being asked to continue paying wages during this time, even if staff are unable to perform their work.

In case you are faced with a risk of retrenchment, or are worried about it, then it is important for you to have clarity on what decisions have been made by your workplace around the crisis. The usual, formal procedures around retrenchment should apply. Staff should be consulted, given sound reasons, given the option of representation, exploring alternative options and fulfilling the correct administrational obligations.

Can the concept of neighbourliness apply in business?
Yes it can. Reaching out to your supply chain, your direct business neighbours and your staff can all be acts of neighbourliness or growing community support. Neighbouring businesses could initiate a discussion around the crisis and seek joint solutions. Businesses can play valuable roles in informing staff about the issues, or by offering support to staff at the home-front where this is needed.
See: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html


One of the biggest impacts that we will all begin to struggle with are the psychological effects of isolation. From group activities including religious services, school and travel to everyday activities like shopping and meeting friends and family in public spaces, we need to take care of our own mental health and help others to do the same. Many of us have already realised that we need to start reaching out to others rather than compete with each other in order to cope with the current situation. A crisis can help to strengthen society, so we can use this moment to do just that. As a community, we all have something to offer. Here’s how to get started.

How can I help?
Think about what you might have to offer in terms of helping yourself and others to cope during this stressful time. Take the time to establish community Whatsapp groups to share reliable information, resources and messages of encouragement. We are all in this together. If someone in your area needs help that you’re able to provide, like supplies, offer assistance.

Organising in this way means you will be able to coordinate quick responses; or give money to donate to people with little or no income, or purchase of essential groceries for the aged and sick. Everyone in a community has something to offer and the ability to create a shared solution to the crisis.

Talk to your neighbours and community organisations, ward councilors and committees, party branches, religious groups and so on. If people get sick – take food and water (if they do not have a tap) and leave it outside their door. Stay in touch via Whatsapp and SMS. Let the hotline (below) know if they need to go to the clinic or hospital.

What sorts of things should I be discussing with my community?
Depending on the nature of your group, there will be a range of issues you may need to consider. If it’s a neighbourhood grouping, you might choose to inform residents on how to reduce exposure or figure out a plan to help the elderly or other vulnerable people. In a work environment you might look at continuity plans for employees and communicate information and advice on how to keep the work place safe (like cleaning of surfaces etc) if you have to keep open. Body corporates should also be looking at how to engage on emergency plans.

Everyone is really stressed out. How do we stop things from getting out of control?
By now you are probably feeling stressed and anxious about the situation but fortunately there has been a lot of helpful advice published online. Here are a few great resources to draw from:

  • Talking to children about Covid-19
  • Keeping children busy during their time at home
  • Looking after your mental health when isolation becomes too much
  • Keeping yourself busy
  • If you need someone to talk to contact the South African Depression and Anxiety group or Quarantine Chat app
  • Learn techniques that will calm your anxiety such as yoga, meditation, breathing techniques. Get fresh air and be close to nature

How do I find out the latest information?


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