We answer seven of SA's most-Googled questions about Covid-19

27 March 2020 - 15:17 By Sanet Oberholzer
Wondering what Covid-19 stands for? It's Corona Virus Disease 2019.
Wondering what Covid-19 stands for? It's Corona Virus Disease 2019.
Image: 123RF/onepencils

Given the havoc the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked globally and the situation we find ourselves in at home, Covid-19 is on the tip of everyone’s tongue — and their Google search bars.

According to trends data from the global search engine, the question Mzansi has been asking the most frequently over the past seven days is: "How many cases of coronavirus/Covid-19 are there in South Africa?"

As this figure has sadly been rising daily, it's best to keep googling that one, but we can answer some of your other most-searched questions about the virus:

1. What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may affect humans or animals.

According to the World Health Organisation, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections in humans. This includes the common cold and more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) which broke out in 2002 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) which broke out in 2012.

2. Why is it called Covid-19?/What does Covid-19 stand for?

The most recently discovered coronavirus which the world is currently battling causes Covid-19, a disease named by the WHO. It stands for Corona Virus Disease 2019.

3. Where did Covid-19 come from?/How did the coronavirus start?

According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa, the specific source of the virus is not yet known. However, the majority of Covid-19 patients initially identified were dealers and vendors at a seafood, poultry and live wildlife market in the Jianghan district of China’s Hubei province. 

“This suggests that the novel coronavirus has a possible zoonotic origin,” says the NICD website, meaning it is a disease that normally exists in animals but can be transmitted from animals to humans.

The pandemic was first reported to the WHO office in China on December 31 2019.

4. What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

The WHO lists the most common symptoms of Covid-19 as being fever, tiredness and a dry cough. “Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually,” according to their website.

That said, some people may be infected without developing any symptoms which is why social distancing and self-isolation are important, even if you're not feeling ill.  

5. How to prevent coronavirus?

There is no vaccine or anti-viral agent available to guard against contracting the disease which means the best way to avoid being infected is to practise basic hygiene.

The WHO suggests taking a few simple precautions such as regularly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.

You also need to practise good respiratory hygiene, meaning you should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing.

It is advisable to maintain a distance of at least a metre  between yourself and other people, especially if they are exhibiting signs of infection. 

Most importantly, you need to respect the government's lockdown.

6. How long does Covid-19 live on surfaces?

The WHO says it is uncertain how long the virus that causes Covid-19 can survive on surfaces, but so far it seems to behave like other coronaviruses.

“Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the Covid-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for between a few hours and several days. This may vary under different conditions (type of surface, temperature and humidity).”

For this reason, it is advisable to clean surfaces regularly and to wash your hands frequently.

7. When will coronavirus end?

It is unclear when this latest coronavirus will be snuffed out. After the mayhem that ensued in China after the initial outbreak, the country is finally reporting very few new domestic Covid-19 cases, meaning there is hope of recovering from the pandemic. 

At the moment it seems countries will have to ride out the infection and in the process try to "flatten the curve" [of  new infections] using measures such as lockdown. That said, as long as the virus persists somewhere, there is always the possibility that a single traveller may cause a new outbreak elsewhere. 

Some countries have placed their hope in people building up “herd immunity” whereby many build up a natural immunity to the virus and protect those who have not, but this will take a while and at this stage the cost of human life is still too great. Professor Neil Ferguson of the Imperial College London told the BBC that such herd immunity could take years to build up.

What we will ideally need is a vaccine, which is something scientists around the globe are working on relentlessly. However, the BBC reports a vaccine could still be 12-18 months away — if everything goes smoothly.

All is not lost, however. To quote a Business Insider article, “Coupled with testing, science will eventually beat this disease.”