Coronavirus: five reasons why you have to self-isolate

16 March 2020 - 12:07 By Claire Keeton
You can infect two to four people with COVID-19, even when you have no symptoms. Wash hands and keep your distance from people.
You can infect two to four people with COVID-19, even when you have no symptoms. Wash hands and keep your distance from people.
Image: 123RF/Andrey Kryuchkov

When you are healthy and at low risk of coronavirus, self-isolation — which can affect your work, social and sporting life — feels like an overreaction. But it is not: isolating will save other people’s lives.

Health professionals worldwide are unanimous that self-isolation and, when needed, quarantine are effective ways to slow down the spread of infection.

Why does this matter?

  1. Slowing down infections allows the health system cope better with the influx of seriously ill patients needing hospitalisation and life-saving treatments. If they all flood into emergency rooms at once, the system can get swamped and lives can be lost.

  2. The virus is an Olympic athlete when it comes to speed. It needs every handicap to hobble its spread. Infectious diseases expert Professor Francois Venter says: “The coronavirus is highly infectious, like flu, but causes more disease and far more deaths.”

  3. People cannot see the underground activity of the virus. You can have zero symptoms but still infect two to four people during the five days you are contagious — before you feel sick — according to US paediatrician Dr Steve Silverstro. He does the maths: “Our family of four has another family of four coming over for a play date — and that family had another family of four over yesterday — you’re not now exposed to only four people’s germs, you’re exposed to eight. Worse still, let’s say your kid’s friend’s mom went grocery shopping before coming over and stood in line with 20 people. Now your primary and secondary exposure is to 28 people’s germs — a whole classroom.”
    This simulation by The Washington Post illustrates the rapid spread of the virus.
  4. The faster the virus spreads, the greater the potential harm to the economy, including transport, medical and food supplies. A US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention graphic shows how to keep the workplace safe.
  5. Self-isolating is how every individual can make a difference to the pandemic. We have the power to flatten the infection curve by acting now. Health experts' advice: behave as if you have Covid-19 and don't want to infect others.

And pay attention to where you put down your phone. You touch your phone with your hands and face, and the virus can survive for 15 hours or more on surfaces. Keep your phone clean and on you if possible. Follow the guidelines: Wash your hands with soap and lots of water!