Covid-19 Explained

Protect yourself and others around you by knowing the facts and taking appropriate precautions

What is Covid-19?

Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars). Covid-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus, and the disease it causes, were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

How does it spread?

The term “social distancing” means to keep your distance from others. This includes avoiding public spaces such as malls and social events as well as recreational areas where others usually gather.

People can catch this new coronavirus from others who have the virus. 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. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. 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 an infected person who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay away from a person who is sick.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, tiredness, and a dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but do not develop any symptoms and do not feel unwell. Most people (about 80 per cent) recover from the disease without needing special treatment and can recover at home. Around one out of every six people who get Covid-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. About two per cent of people with the disease have died.

How is Covid-19 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 available. Antibiotics do not treat viral infections. However, antibiotics may be required if a bacterial secondary infection develops.

How can you prevent infection?

  • Wear a mask. From 1 May, when lockdown restrictions ease, it will be mandatory for all South Africans to wear a cloth face mask when out in public. You will need to have your nose and mouth covered each time you leave your home. If you do not have a mask, you can use a scarf or T-shirt.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based sanitisers containing at least 70% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Maintain a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Stay at home when you are sick and try and keep a distance from others at home.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Sanitise all items brought in from outside your home.

Practise social distancing

The term “social distancing” means to keep your distance from others. This includes avoiding public spaces such as malls and social events as well as recreational areas where others usually gather. One needs to avoid handshakes, hugs and other forms of direct contact as well as keeping a distance of at least two metres from others. In the battle against the highly infectious Covid-19 virus, social distancing is extremely important to help curb the spread of this disease across the country. Social distancing is essential in flattening the curve. A flattened curve is indicated by the number of infected people dropping.

Testing and screening

10 000 community health care workers, with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) are currently deployed across the country for door-to-door household screening and to refer symptomatic people to clinics for testing. Screening is a way for health workers to find out if you may have Covid-19 or not. The health worker will ask you questions and scan your forehead to take your temperature. You must be honest when you answer the questions to make sure you get the right help. Testing refers to taking a sample from the nose or throat with a cotton swab and testing it in a laboratory.  

What is the difference between quarantine and isolation?


Quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to Covid-19 away from others. Someone in self-quarantine stays separated from others, and they limit movement outside of their home or current place of residence. A person may have been exposed to the virus without knowing it (for example, when travelling or out in the community), or they could have the virus without having symptoms. Quarantine helps limit the further spread of Covid-19.


Isolation is used to separate sick people from healthy people. People who are in isolation should stay home. In the home, anyone sick should separate themselves from others by staying in a specific “sick” bedroom or space and using a different bathroom (if possible).

Quarantine and isolation practices

  • Stay home and only go out if you need medical care. Monitor your symptoms for fever, cough, shortness of breath and get medical attention as soon as possible if you become ill.
  • If you become ill, call your healthcare facility and tell them that you have, or are being evaluated for, Covid-19 and put on a face mask before you enter the healthcare facility.
  • Ask your healthcare professional to inform the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home. If you can, use a separate bathroom.
  • Face masks should be used to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. Cough or sneeze into the fold of your elbow. Alternatively, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Clean your hands often. With soap and water for at least 20 seconds or with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean surfaces like counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables every day.

While most South Africans will be quarantined in their homes, others can be placed in community-based facilities for their quarantine period. This practice would extend to those who are believed to have been in contact with a Covid-19 infected person and can be extended to a wider community, depending how many people were in contact with the infected person.

The quarantine and self-isolation period is 14 days from the time a person was possibly exposed to the virus. South Africans can curb the spread by separating people who may have had contact with infected people from the rest of the community. While in quarantine, people will be closely monitored for any signs of Covid-19 symptoms.

For South Africans who have tested positive for Covid-19 or are living with someone who has a confirmed case of the virus, quarantine and/or isolation are absolutely necessary.

Useful contacts:

  • If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, call the government’s 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999
  • Covid-19 Whatsapp Number: 0600 123456

Step 1: Save the number to your contacts on your cellphone

Step 2: Send the word “Hi’ to connect and start chatting.

Download the App: The Mpilo App is linked to the Gauteng Department of Health digital platforms and ensures that users have access to credible and verified information on Covid-19

0r visit the following websites to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 news: