The Novel Coronavirus: frequently asked questions


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An outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first reported from Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread within China, and to other countries, including Nigeria.

As yet, there have been no confirmed cases in South Africa. However, we should follow hygienic practices at all times, to prevent the spread of all diseases, including the new coronavirus. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the novel coronavirus…

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found in both animals and humans. Some infect people and cause illness from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

What is the latest strain of the virus?

A novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus not previously found in humans. The new, or “novel” coronavirus, now called 2019-nCoV, was first detected when an outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China on 31 December, 2019.

What are the symptoms?

There can be fever and respiratory symptoms like coughs and shortness of breath. Severe cases can lead to pneumonia and kidney failure.

How does the virus spread?

The new coronavirus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Who can catch this virus?

People living or travelling in an area where the 2019-nCoV virus is circulating may be at risk of infection. At the moment, the vast majority of infections have been reported in China. Others infected are health workers treating people with 2019-nCoV or people who have recently travelled from China or who live or work closely with those travellers.

What can I do to protect myself?

Here are some steps you can take to minimise your risk of contracting respiratory illnesses, including coronaviruses.

  • Wash your hands

Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

  • Practice respiratory hygiene

When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or a tissue. Discard tissues into a closed bin and then wash your hands.

  • Maintain social distance

Keep at least a metre between yourself and other people, particularly people coughing, sneezing or who have a fever.

  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer the virus to yourself. Regularly clean hands and surfaces.

  • If you have symptoms, seek medical care

If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, tell your doctor if you, or someone you’ve been in contact with, have travelled to China and have respiratory symptoms. If you have mild respiratory symptoms and have not visited China, carefully practice basic respiratory and hand hygiene and stay home until you feel better.

For more information, visit the World Health Organization website at  or

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