Coronavirus FAQ: Know the Basics

The current COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 12 March 2020. After several cases of the virus were identified in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster on 15 March to allow the government to put in place measures to fight the spread of the virus. If you have uncertainties about COVID-19, then the frequently asked questions (FAQs) below are for you.

COVID-19 is the coronavirus disease caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. Human coronaviruses are common throughout the world, however this is a novel virus not seen in the human population until 2019. The specific origin of the virus is not known yet, but the initial patients identified in December 2019 had a link with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in China’s Jianghan District of Hubei Province, suggesting a potential zoonotic origin (zoonotic diseases are transmissible from animals to humans). The outbreak is now characterised by ongoing sustained transmission between people.

While the first cases probably involved exposure to an animal source, the virus is now spreading from person to person. Transmission is thought to happen mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or exhales. The droplets can also land on surfaces or objects, and if people touch these and then touch their eyes, mouth or nose, they can also get infected. The majority of cases have occurred in people who have had close physical contact with infected people – which is why a distance of 1 metre between yourself and other people is recommended, especially from sick people.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, tiredness, and a dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, a sore throat, or diarrhoea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who get COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Travellers to or people in areas where there is ongoing sustained transmission of COVID-19 are at a high risk of infection with COVID-19, as is anyone who comes into contact with a person carrying the virus. Furthermore, the elderly, individuals with co-morbidities like diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure or other underlying chronic conditions have been found to have a higher risk of mortality associated with the SARS-CoV-2. Healthcare workers have a higher risk of exposure. However the virus is spreading at an alarming rate, with local transmissions also confirmed in South Africa, and everyone must protect themselves and their community by following preventative measures including restrictions on travel, movement, social activities and gatherings.

The virus is very susceptible to common anti-bacterial cleaning agents such as bleach and alcohol-based cleaners (60% volume). Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub, or wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Maintain a distance of at least one metre between yourself and other people when outside your home – especially but not limited to people who are coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unclean hands.

Self-isolation is a way to keep yourself from possibly infecting others if you think you might be infected. It involves limiting contact with public places, relatives, friends, colleagues and public transport.

The symptoms of COVID-19 include coughing, a sore throat, shortness of breath or fever. However, these are also symptoms of the flu. The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) recommends that you should only get tested if you display the abovementioned symptoms and have:
  • been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 infected person;
  • travelled to a high-risk country;
  • worked in or been to a healthcare facility treating people with COVID-19; and
  • a severe case of pneumonia with an unknown cause.
However, you should consult your medical practitioner immediately if you display symptoms.

If you think you might have contracted the virus, you can call the NICD helpline (0800 029 999) and you will be advised on possible testing facilities. However, testing is not routinely done unless it is indicated by a health professional, therefore you would need to be assessed by your medical practitioner in order to qualify for testing.

Anyone who tests positive will immediately be notified and put into quarantine at home or at a facility designated to manage the outbreak. You will then remain in quarantine until repeat testing shows you no longer have the virus.

There is no specific treatment available for SARS-CoV-2. Treatment is supportive (e.g. providing oxygen for patients with shortness of breath or managing a fever). Antibiotics do not treat viral infections. However, antibiotics may be required if a secondary bacterial infection develops. Currently, there is a vaccine being developed.

The Student Counselling Unit (SCU) remains available to all UP students during the suspension of contact classes. Should you wish to receive counselling please contact the SCU through the following channels: [email protected] or 012 420 2333. Someone will contact you and schedule a WhatsApp video or voice consultation, or a telephone call. Please note that the SADAG care line is open to members of the public, including all UP staff and students, 24/7. You can reach them on their 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789.



The coronavirus is spread from person to person through respiratory droplets. Currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food it is important to always rinse the food with water, where possible, and wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus does not survive well in warmer climates. It is therefore expected to thrive in the colder winter seasons.



It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment). If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

Travel should be avoided and if returning from a high-risk country, 14 days of isolation should be implemented. Self-monitor for onset of symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or difficulty breathing. If any should arise, seek medical attention.

  • Stay home and away from people when sick.
  • Practise social distancing.
  • Be aware of fake news reporting, ensuring only credible resources from the WHO, NICD or other equivalents, are shared. Speak out against negative behaviours and negative social media statements stereotyping various individuals.
  • Ensure personal hygiene and good health practices such as cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Get the recent flu vaccine to ensure you minimise the risk of infection that mimics COVID-19.
  • Express your appreciation to healthcare workers who are on the frontline taking care of patients and helping make sure this disease does not spread further.


Published by Sipho Mphurpi

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