From lockdown to hotspot: 10 words Covid-19 taught us this year

31 December 2020 - 14:00 By cebelihle bhengu
SA registered its first Covid-19 case in March, ushering in a whole new set of words.
SA registered its first Covid-19 case in March, ushering in a whole new set of words.
Image: REUTERS/Bing Guan

The year 2020 was one of big changes, not only in the way we live, work and interact, but it also changed the words we use — all thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.

SA confirmed its first case on March 5 and since then, health-care experts have constantly updated the nation on the virus.

SA has been on lockdown since March, a measure that was introduced to combat the spread of the virus and prepare the health system for an influx of patients.

Here are 10 terms that many came to know, and use, only in 2020:


R0, R-nought or reproduction number is an epidemiologic metric used to measure and describe the rate at which an infection spreads in an area. According to healthline, R0 indicates the average number of people who will contract the disease.


This term refers to an increase in infections. Health minister Zweli Mkhize says an area can be considered to have a resurgence if there is “a 20% increase in the average incidence of Covid-19 cases using a seven-day moving average within a defined geographical area”.


An area which has many people who have tested positive for Covid-19 is considered a hotspot. Restrictive measures can be imposed to prevent any further spread of the virus.

The SA coronavirus website says hotspots are determined based on the number of active cases per 100,000 in the population, the rate of increase in active cases, and the capacity of the health system.

New normal 

This refers to a new way of doing things. New normal differs from person to person depending on how they lived before the pandemic. New normal for some may mean working remotely instead of going to the office and shopping online rather than going to the shops physically.

Flattening the curve 

The term describes efforts to slow the spread of the virus, to lower the number of cases and delay its peak to better prepare the health-care system for an influx of patients.

A sharp rise on the curve represents a fast rate of the disease spreading. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a flatter curve is created by a more gradual increase in the number of cases per day and a more gradual decrease.

Close or direct contact

This term refers to a person who has been in proximity to an individual who had a positive diagnosis of Covid-19. The department of health encourages South Africans to download the Alert Covid-19 app which helps it track close or direct contacts with Covid-19 positive individuals.

Local transmission

Refers to the transmission of disease (Covid-19) between people who had not travelled to countries identified as high risk. The first man to get Covid-19 in SA had travelled to Italy.


This means staying indoors as much as possible and going out to get essential items only, like food and medication. Self-isolation is a precautionary measure for people who show Covid-19 symptoms.


This refers to an emergency protocol, adopted by SA in March, to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. Under lockdown, services which were not considered essential were forced to close to minimise human contact. Under hard lockdown, South Africans were allowed to go out only for essential services such as food and to receive medical care.


It is possible to contract Covid-19 and not show any symptoms. According to NICD, asymptomatic but Covid-positive people can spread the virus.