Keep calm and wash your hands: Simple, everyday steps make a difference

By Christi Nortier 12 March 2020

A Nigerian man washes his hands in an art gallery using a hand sanitiser station amid fears over the case of Coronavirus (Covid-19) in Lagos, Nigeria 10 March 2020. An Italian citizen who works in Nigeria tested positive for Covid-19 on 28 February 2020. The Nigeria Federal Ministry of Health said it has been working to identify all the contacts of the patient since he entered Nigeria. Fears are high that should Covid-19 gain traction in Africa, it could have devastating effects on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Israel Ophori)

A pandemic does not just have an impact on physical health, but also on social and emotional health. The Coronavirus pandemic has sparked panic-buying, blame games and prejudice. But it also has the potential for humans to be better and do better. Health can be safeguarded with simple steps recommended by reliable organisations, such as the World Health Organisation. Practical, routine habits can make all the difference to your health and that of those around you.

The day after declaring the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a pandemic, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterated his stance that this is a controllable pandemic.

He once again stressed the importance of containment — some countries have no infections yet, or have areas where infections are not present. He says that lives will be saved if the transmission is reduced.

Transmission is literally in everyone’s hands. Here’s how to handle it correctly:

Wash your hands

Regular, and thorough, hand washing has been touted as the most effective way to stop Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, in its tracks. The WHO recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, or simply soap and water. 

Doing so kills the virus that might be on your hands. If your hands pick up the virus they can transfer it to your eyes, nose and mouth if you touch your face. That is the gateway for the virus to enter your body.

Some believe that wearing rubber gloves when you leave the house will protect you — like masks, they are not foolproof. Gloves, like hands, can pick up Covid-19. If you wear gloves and touch your face, you will still transfer the virus. 

Keep your coughs and sneezes to yourself

While it is important to protect yourself from the virus, it is equally important to protect those around you from it. You might have an immunity strong enough to overcome it, but others might not be in that position.

Cover your mouth and nose with the crook of your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Get rid of that tissue immediately by throwing it into a closed bin.

It takes between one and 14 days for the symptoms of the disease to show, so you might be passing it on without knowing it, or you might pass on a cold or flu.

Passing on a cold or flu will put strain on the healthcare system around you, as those people might flock to doctors to use up precious time and Covid-19 test kits because they think they might be infected. 

If you show symptoms, call this hotline

If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing then you need to seek medical attention — but call first. By calling before rushing out to see a doctor you are sure to be sent to the right place, the right people and on the path of least contact with others who you might infect.

You also won’t be putting pressure on healthcare workers, who themselves will be stressed.

In the meantime, #StayTheFuckHome (‘A movement to stop the Covid-19 pandemic’) – if you are in the privileged position to be able to, that is.

The Ministry of Health has a 24-hour coronavirus outbreak hotline: 0800 029 999

Wear a mask – only when necessary

The WHO doesn’t feature masks in its list of ways to protect yourself from the virus. A mask is only necessary if you have Covid-19 symptoms or if you are looking after someone who is infected.

Masks are only effective if you also regularly clean your hands. And no, wearing a couple of masks at the same time does not make a difference.

If you don’t qualify as the above, then you are wasting a mask in a time when there is a worldwide shortage of them. 

Since the start of the outbreak, the prices of surgical masks have increased six-fold and N95 respirators have trebled in price. The WHO has estimated that 89 million medical masks are needed each month for medical workers responding to Covid-19. 

The WHO estimates that global manufacturing needs to increase by 40% to meet current demand.

Keep a sociable distance

Social distancing is not isolation or quarantine. It means you can interact with other people, but that you keep at least one metre between yourself and those who are coughing or sneezing. By doing this, you are more likely to dodge the small liquid droplets which someone sprays when they sneeze or cough that may or may not contain the virus. Any closer and you might breathe in those drops and introduce the virus to your own respiratory system.

So wave, nod or bow to say hi. Or do the Wuhan shake.

Keep mental health in mind

An epidemic can cause an infodemic — a time when there is so much information about a problem that it begins to feel too confusing to find a solution for it and rumours spread faster than the disease itself. 

To keep this at bay, stay informed by tuning into reliable sources. Keep in mind that only the South African Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize can confirm new Covid-19 patients. 

The WHO is a trusted source of data and advice. It has a myth-busting project to allay some of the rumours on social media.

The WHO has said that staying informed, but not overly glued to the news, is the best way to beat the stress, anxiety and stigma that spreads with the virus. Here are there guidelines:

 The way we talk about the virus is important. “The stigma is more dangerous than the virus [Covid-19] itself,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO.

These are the WHO’s guidelines on how to talk about Covid-19 that does not criminalise or dehumanise people who have come into contact with the virus: 

  • Do talk about Covid-19, but don’t attach locations or ethnicity to it such as “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese virus”;
  • Do talk about “people who have Covid-19”, “people who are being treated for Covid-19”, “people who are recovering from Covid-19” or “people who died after contracting Covid-19” rather than referring to people with the disease as “Covid-19 cases” or “victims”’;
  • Do talk about “people who may have Covid-19”, rather than “Covid-19 suspects” or “suspected cases”; and 
  • Do talk about people “acquiring” or “contracting” Covid-19, rather than “transmitting Covid-19”, “infecting others” or “spreading the virus”. It implies intentional transmission and places blame.

The vast majority of people who contract Covid-19 do recover. Simple steps can be taken to keep ourselves safe, as well as those most vulnerable. MC


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"


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