UPDATE | Covid-19 is now a pandemic as coronavirus cases increase, death toll climbs

2020-03-11 18:45

Here's what we know in South Africa so far about the novel coronavirus, which has now reached pandemic stage as it continues to spread globally:

  • 13 people have been diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus
  • All the SA cases relate to people who travelled to Europe during March
  • 7 cases are in KwaZulu-Natal
  • 5 cases are in Gauteng - one patient is in a critical condition as he also suffers from a renal disease, while another has been discharged from hospital
  • 1 case is in the Western Cape

As cases in South Africa increase, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

"This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus," said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a media briefing in Geneva on Wednesday. 

In the past two weeks, the number of cases of Covid-19 outside China increased 13-fold, while the number of affected countries has tripled.

READ | Coronavirus in SA: Six more cases of Covid-19 confirmed

The WHO said there were now more than 118 000 cases in 114 countries, while 4 291 people have died.

"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction," said Ghebreyesus, adding pandemic was not a word to use lightly or carelessly.

"It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death."

Ghebreyesus said the WHO expected to see the number of cases, deaths and number of affected countries to climb even higher.

However, he warned the WHO had not seen a pandemic before that could be controlled. 

"We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic."

Ghebreyesus emphasised that if countries detected, tested, treated, isolated, traced, and mobilised their people in the response, those with a handful of cases could prevent those cases becoming clusters, and in turn prevent those clusters from becoming community transmissions.

"Even those countries with community transmissions or large clusters can turn the tide on this virus."

Ghebreyesus reiterated all countries should activate and increase their emergency response mechanisms.


The WHO's approach to a pandemic disease is to track its advance in six stages. These stages do not relate to the severity of the sickness or how many people have it. Instead, they relate to where the disease is located; and how it is spreading from one area to another. It also takes into account how new the virus strain is and if there is immunity against it.

The pandemic phase is characterised by:

  • the human-to-human spread of the virus
  • through community level outbreaks
  • from at least two countries in one WHO region to at least one other country in a different WHO region and
  • the world-wide impact it has

DID YOU KNOW: The word pandemic has only been used for two worldwide influenza outbreaks - the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu Pandemic and the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic.


  • Avoid contact with people who have respiratory infections 
  • Maintain social distancing – stay at least one metre away from somebody who is coughing or sneezing
  • Practice frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as your hands touch many surfaces and could potentially transfer the virus
  • Practice respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dispose the tissue immediately after use.

You should call the NICD helpline on 0800 029 999 if you think you might have the virus.


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