Essential facts about Covid-19: the disease, the responses, and an uncertain future. For South African learners, teachers, and the general public

Bucher, Martin (ed) ; Mall, Anwar Suleman (ed) ; Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) (2021)

Cite as: Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), Bucher M (ed), Mall AS (ed), (2021). Essential facts about Covid-19: the disease, the responses, and an uncertain future. For South African learners, teachers, and the general public. [Online] Available at: DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/assaf.2021/0072

The first cases of a new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) were identified toward the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. Over the following months, this virus spread to everywhere in the world. By now no country has been spared the devastation from the loss of lives from the disease (Covid-19) and the economic and social impacts of responses to mitigate the impact of the virus. Our lives in South Africa have been turned upside down as we try to make the best of this bad situation. The 2020 school year was disrupted with closure and then reopening in a phased approach, as stipulated by the Department of Education. This booklet is a collective effort by academics who are Members of the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) and other invited scholars to help you appreciate some of the basic scientific facts that you need to know in order to understand the present crisis and the various options available to respond to it. We emphasise that the threat of infectious diseases is not an entirely new phenomenon that has sprung onto the stage out of nowhere. Infectious diseases and pandemics have been with us for centuries, in fact much longer. Scientists have warned us for years of the need to prepare for the next pandemic. Progress in medicine in the course of the 20th century has been formidable. Childhood mortality has greatly decreased almost everywhere in the world, thanks mainly, but not only, to the many vaccines that have been developed. Effective drugs now exist for many deadly diseases for which there were once no cures. For many of us, this progress has generated a false sense of security. It has caused us to believe that the likes of the 1918 ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic, which caused some 50 million deaths around the world within a span of a few months, could not be repeated in some form in today’s modern world. The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us that as new cures for old diseases are discovered, new diseases come along for which we are unprepared. And every hundred or so years one of these diseases wreaks havoc on the world and interferes severely with our usual ways of going about our lives. Today’s world has become increasingly interconnected and interdependent, through trade, migrations, and rapid air travel. This globalisation makes it easier for epidemics to spread, somewhat offsetting the power of modern medicine. In this booklet we have endeavoured to provide an historical perspective, and to enrich your knowledge with some of the basics of medicine, viruses, and epidemiology. Beyond the immediate Covid-19 crisis, South Africa faces a number of other major health challenges: highly unequal access to quality healthcare, widespread tuberculosis, HIV infection causing AIDS, a high prevalence of mental illness, and a low life expectancy, compared to what is possible with today’s medicine. It is essential that you, as young people, also learn about the nature of these new challenges, so that you may contribute to finding future solutions.

I-coronavirus entsha (i-SARS-CoV-2) ikhonjwa ngasekupheleni kuka-2019 endaweni yase Wuhan, China. Ezinyangeni ezilandelayo, leli gciwane lasakazeleeka kuyo yonke indawo emhlabeni. Okwamanje alikho izwe elisindile ekufenikwabantu ngenxa yalesi sifo (Covid-19), kanye nemithelela kwezomnotho, nakwezenhlalo ukunciphisa umthelela wegciwane . Izimpilo zethu eNingizimu Afrika zibebucayi njengoba sizama ukwenza okusemandleni kulesi simo esibi. Unyaka wesikole ka2020 waphazanyiswa ukuvalwa wabe uvulwa ngaphansi kwemigomo enezigaba, njengokusho koMnyango Wezemfundo. Le ncwajana iwumzamo ohlanganyelwe wezifundiswa ezingamalungu e-Academy of Science ENingizimu Afrika (ASSAf) nezinye izifundiswa ezimenyiwe ukukusiza ukuthi wazi ezinye zezinto eziyisisekelo, namaqiniso esayensi odinga ukuwazi ukuze uqonde ubunzima obukhona njengamanje. Siyakugcizelela ukuthi usongo lwezifo ezithathelanayo akusiyo into entsha ngokuphelele eye yavela kungazelelwe. Izifo ezithathelanayo nezifo eziwubhubhane bezinathi emakhulwini eminyaka edlule. Ososayensi basixwayisile iminyaka eminingi ngesidingo sokulungiselela ubhubhane olungalandela. Intuthuko kwezokwelapha kwiminyaka engaba yikhulu-namashumi amabili ibe nkulu kakhulu. Ukufa kwezingane kwehle kakhulu cishe yonke indawo emhlabeni, sibonga ikakhulukazi imithi yokugoma ekhiqiziwe. Imishanguzo esebenzayo manje kukhona izifo eziningi ezibulalayo. Kwabaningi bethu, lenqubekela phambili idale umuzwa ongewona wokuphepha. Kusenze sakholwa ukuthi kwakunjani ngobhubhane ‘lomkhuhlane waseSpain’ lwango-1918, olwabangela ukufa kwabantu abangaba yizigidi ezingama-50 umhlaba kungakapheli isikhathi sezinyanga ezimbalwa, ubungeke uphindwe ngendlela ethile esimweni sanamuhla umhlaba. Ubhubhane lweCovid-19 lusikhumbuza ukuthi njengoba kutholakala ukwelashwa okusha kwezifo ezindala, okusha izifo ziza lapho esingazilungiselele. Futhi njalo eminyakeni eyikhulu noma ngaphezulu eyodwa yalezi izifo zizolimaza umhlaba futhi ziphazamisa kakhulu izindlela zethu ezijwayelekile zezimpilo. Izwe lanamuhla seliya ngokuya lixhuma futhi lincikene, ngokusebenzisa ukuhweba, ukufuduka, nokuhamba emoyeni okusheshayo. Lokhu kubumbana kwembulunga yonke kwenza kube lula ukuthi ubhubhane lusabalale, ngandlela thile ukucisha amandla ezokwelapha zesimanje. Kule ncwajana sizame ukunikeza umbono womlando, nokunothisa ulwazi lwakho ngezinye izisekelo zemithi, amagciwane, kanye nezifo ezithathelanayo. Ngaphandle kwenkinga esheshayo ye-Covid-19, iNingizimu Afrika ibhekene nezinye izinselelo ezinkulu zezempilo: kakhulu ukufinyelela ngokungalingani ekunakekelweni kwezempilo okusezingeni, isifo sofuba esandile, ukutheleleka ngegciwane lenculazi, Kanye nokwanda kakhulu kwezifo zengqondo. Kubalulekile ukuthi nina, njengabantu abasha, nifunde ngemvelo nezinselelo ezintsha, ukuze nibambe iqhaza ekutholeni izixazululo ngezikhathi ezizayo.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/assaf.2021/0072
Author and contributor ORCIDs: Bucher, Martin ORCID; Carruthers, Jane ORCID; Gevers, Wieland ORCID; Soodyall, Himla ORCID; Veldsman, Susan ORCID; Wright, Caradee ORCID; Ellis, Michael ORCID; Karim, Quarraisha Abdool ORCID; Hansraj, Sudan ORCID; Hlabisa, Bongeka ORCID; Majake, Tsepo ORCID; Mall, Anwar Suleman ORCID; Mendelson, Marc ORCID; Petruccione, Francesco ORCID; Phillips, Howard ORCID; Richter, Linda ORCID; Rybicki, Ed ORCID; Slemming, Wiedaad ORCID; Tomlinson, Mark ORCID; Van den Heever, Alex ORCID
Publisher: Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
Sponsorship: Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
Peer review status: Peer Reviewed