FACTSHEET: Coronavirus and the Covid-19 outbreak

What are the symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus? How can I protect myself and others? Why is social distancing important? We answer your questions.

  • What is the new coronavirus?
  • How does Covid-19 spread?
  • What are the symptoms of Covid-19?
  • Who is most at risk of Covid-19?
  • What do I do if I think I have Covid-19?
  • How can I protect myself – and other people – from the coronavirus?
  • Why is social distance important?
  • Is social distancing the same as self-isolation?
  • Is there a cure for Covid-19?
  • Where can I get more information on Covid-19?
  • How do I debunk misinformation about Covid-19?

What is the new coronavirus?

A coronavirus is part of a large family of viruses that cause illness in people and animals.

The novel, or new, coronavirus is the most recently discovered coronavirus. It causes the disease Covid-19.

The coronavirus infects cells in our lungs and airways. That’s why Covid-19 is known as a respiratory disease.

Some coronaviruses cause mild respiratory illnesses like the common cold. Others cause serious respiratory diseases that can lead to pneumonia.

Find out more on the World Health Organization (WHO) Covid-19 page.

How does Covid-19 spread?

The virus is spread in tiny drops of liquid that leave the body when an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales.

These can cause an infection when:

  • We breathe in the drops carrying the virus while they are still in the air.
  • We touch a surface the drops – and the virus – have landed on, and then touch our eyes, nose, mouth or ears.

That’s why it’s important to wash your hands regularly with soap and water – and use hand sanitiser when you’re away from home.

What are the symptoms of Covid-19?

The most common signs of coronavirus disease are:

  • A high body temperature, known as a fever. Your chest or back feel hot to the touch.
  • Tiredness
  • A new cough that won’t go away. This can be lots of coughing in one hour, or three or more coughing fits in 24 hours. If you normally have a cough, it gets worse than usual.

Some people also get these symptoms:

  • Aches and pains in the body
  • A blocked nose
  • A runny nose
  • A sore throat
  • Diarrhoea – a runny tummy

About one out of every six people with Covid-19 gets very sick and starts having difficulty breathing.

Who is most at risk of Covid-19?

Older people are most at risk of getting very sick with Covid-19. So are people with existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, asthma, cancer and so on.

The WHO says most people – about eight out of 10 – recover from the disease without needing special treatment.

But the WHO warns that young people are “not invincible” to the disease. There are media reports that some young people aren’t taking Covid-19 seriously.

Covid-19 is a dangerous disease. Even young people can get sick and die from coronavirus infection.

What do I do if I think I have Covid-19?

Contact your country’s health authority for advice. Answer all questions about travel and people you have been in contact with honestly.

Do not prank call coronavirus hotlines – it could make it difficult for sick people to get through.

In South Africa:

  • Call 0800 029 999 or 0800 111 132 (toll-free 24-hour hotlines).
  • On WhatsApp, send HI to 0600 123 456.

In Kenya:

  • Call 719 or text *719# (toll free hotline)
  • Call 072 947 1414 or 073 235 3535

You can also call the county hotlines:

  • Nairobi: 0800 721 316 (toll free) or 073 235 3535
  • Garissa: 011 120 7207 or 011 004 0836 or 011 040 708
  • Turkana: 075 872 2023
  • Mombasa: 075 854 9212
  • Nakuru: 072 432 0853 or 072 233 7018
  • Uasin Gishu: 075 402 7027

In Nigeria:

  • Call the Centre for Disease Control hotline on 800 9700 0010.

In Senegal:

  • Call 1515.
  • Call the Centre for Disease Control hotline on 800 00 50 50.

In other African countries:

Amref Health Africa has a list of emergency hotlines for African countries on its Covid-19 Africa Information Centre page.

How can I protect myself – and other people – from the coronavirus?

Use good hygiene to keep the virus off your hands and away from your nose, mouth and ears.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water – for at least 20 seconds.
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or get to work.
  • Carry hand sanitiser with you to use when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Try not to touch your face.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, the inside of your elbow or your sleeve. Don’t cough or sneeze into your hands.
  • Put used tissues in the dustbin immediately. Wash your hands afterwards.

Keep a social distance.

  • Stay at home as much as possible. Only go out for important things: work, shopping for food, doctor’s appointments and emergencies.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of coronavirus.
  • Try not to travel on public transport.
  • Don’t go to bars, clubs, restaurants and movies.
  • Don’t go to events with large groups of people.
  • Don’t invite people to your home.
  • Don’t shake hands with anyone. Don’t hug or kiss friends and family.

The diagram below shows how social distancing can dramatically slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

Why is social distance important?

Social distancing – and washing your hands often – doesn’t only help keep you safe from the coronavirus. It also keeps other people safe.

It prevents the Covid-19 disease from spreading too quickly through your community and your country.

This is called “flattening the curve”.

Social distancing slows down the outbreak of the disease so that there aren’t a lot of very sick people at the same time. This would overwhelm the health system.

Instead, fewer people get sick over a longer period of time. This slower rate of infection will allow hospitals and clinics to cope properly with the outbreak.

Is social distancing the same as self-isolation?

Social distancing means staying at home as much as possible, and only going out for really important reasons, like buying food.

It doesn’t mean you can’t spend time with the people you live with. Still, to be safe, avoid unnecessary physical contact with people in your home.

But if you have symptoms of Covid-19, or have tested positive for coronavirus infection, you must practise both social distancing and self-isolation.

Self-isolation means you must not leave home. Also, keep at least 3 metres away from people in your home. Keep well away from older people who could get very sick from Covid-19.

Is there a cure for Covid-19?

No, not at the moment. According to the WHO, “there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease”.

The WHO also “does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for Covid-19”.

But there are several ongoing clinical trials. The WHO will provide updated information as soon as clinical findings are available.

Where can I get more information on Covid-19?

How do I debunk misinformation about Covid-19?

The global spread of Covid-19 has led to unprecedented measures around the world. But misinformation is spreading almost as fast.

Our live guide puts all of Africa Check’s fact-checks on the coronavirus and Covid-19 in one place. It also has information on many other resources you can use to find accurate information.

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