CORONAVIRUS – Should you be concerned?

Bottomline: A recent virus outbreak in China is still spreading across the world. There is no reason to be anxious, but we urge members to stay informed about the spread of this virus, to avoid unnecessary travel, especially around mainland China, and to take some basic health precautions.

What is this virus all about?

As you may have heard or read in recent news reports, there has been an outbreak of a respiratory illness in mainland China, caused by a new coronavirus called COVID-19.

Since middle-January this virus has spread rapidly through person-to-person contact, infecting (as at the writing of this article) more than 60 000 people and resulting in the death of around 1 500 of these. The large majority of cases, and almost all fatalities, have been in mainland China, but cases have been confirmed in countries across the world. These infections have been mostly among people who had been traveling in China, or had contact with someone who had been in China (notably Wuhan city, and the Hubei province) recently.

In the last two weeks of January, this virus has spread rapidly through person-to-person contact, infecting (as at the writing of this letter) more than twenty thousand people and resulting in the death of around 430 of these. The large majority of cases, and almost all fatalities, have been in mainland China, but cases have been confirmed in countries across the world. Botswana has some suspected cases, but none have yet been confirmed. These infections have been mostly among people who had been traveling in China, or had contact with someone who had been in China (notably Wuhan city, and the Hubei province) recently.

NOTE: The infection figures are changing daily. The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University developed a very detailed online dashboard tracking the spread of COVID-19, where you can see the latest statistics. Please visit their website for more information:
https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

Is this virus in South Africa yet?

To date, no cases of COVID-19 infection have been reported in South Africa, but we are monitoring the situation. The National Department of Health (NDOH) has also instituted measures to detect people showing symptoms at important ports of entry, such as airports.

What are the signs and symptoms?

For confirmed COVID-19 infections, reported illnesses have ranged from people with little to no symptoms, to people being severely ill. Typical symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, and these may progress to severe respiratory illness or even multiple organ failure. The risk of being infected is higher for patients who may have underlying medical conditions.

A key challenge in containing the spread of COVID-19 seems to be its incubation period. Although symptoms may appear in as few as 2 days, some patients may take two weeks from exposure to show symptoms, during which time they can transmit COVID-19.

Can I prevent contracting this virus?

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection, and the best way to prevent infection is to avoid travel, especially to mainland China. If you do have to travel and have to pass through busy hubs such as airports and harbours, consider wearing a surgical mask. Avoid close contact with people who have travelled in or from mainland China since middle January, or who are showing signs and symptoms of this virus.
It is also a good idea to follow these standard precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitiser.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay at home if you are sick.
  • Practice cough etiquette; covering your cough or sneeze.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces.

Although the risk to our members appears to be low at this stage, we will continue to monitor the situation around COVID-19 and will share any pertinent information that may affect our members’ health.