Adam Welz's Weblog

South Africa: Why We Must Act As If Everyone Is Infected With the Coronavirus

Posted in Uncategorized by adamwelz on March 18, 2020

Open Letter To South Africans #2

Why We Must Act As If Everyone Is Infected

On Sunday night, President Ramaphosa made a speech that instantly changed South Africa. He made it very clear that the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is an extraordinary challenge, and that we need to act quickly and decisively if we are to have any hope of containing it and preventing the deaths of enormous numbers of people.

People are beginning to understand how serious the situation is. There has been panic buying in supermarkets. Many people are confining themselves to their homes. Tourism has dried up and small businesses are closing down. We are justifiably worried about the future.

But one important fact has not yet been well communicated to the public: This fact is that the new coronavirus can be transmitted by people who appear to be healthy. It is not only transmitted by people who appear sick.

Medical research shows that many people, especially children, teenagers and young adults, can be infected by the new coronavirus and not show obvious symptoms of illness. They can appear to be just slightly sick or even perfectly healthy, but at the same time they are infecting other people.

You will see messages like this on government websites, in shopping malls, and other places in South Africa:

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 10.05.29

Notice that it says “3 – Avoid close contact with people who are sick”? That makes it seem like only obviously-sick people, like people who are coughing and sneezing, can infect you with the virus if you get near them, which is not true. The truth is that even people who look healthy can infect you if they have the virus.

The new coronavirus is mainly spread through physical contact (touch), through droplets of spit when people cough and sneeze, on objects that infected people have recently touched (especially eating utensils that have spit on them) and via faeces (poo).

So experts say that in addition to paying special attention to hygiene (like handwashing), we must also try to stay at least two metres away from other people at all times, even if they appear to be healthy. 

This means that we must stay two metres away from other people in the shops, while waiting for transport, and while walking in public (and we need to figure out how to prevent virus transmission in taxis and other transport). We must close bars and restaurants and other places where people get close to each other (restaurants must do take-away only).

And when our kids’ schools and universities close down, we must keep them at home and away from other people. This is not the time to let our kids socialise with their friends, play in the streets, have parties or sleepovers. Our kids can infect each other and then bring the virus home. It is good for kids to get out into the fresh air, but they must be supervised and stay at least two metres away from everyone else while they do it.

Government and business need to update their messaging on physical distancing urgently. All images about the coronavirus outbreak must show people standing far apart. We need to work hard in our communities to close down places where people gather unnecessarily. Government needs to work hard to make sure that people who have lost their jobs get some form of income.

As I described in my earlier open letter, we need to do everything we can to slow down the spread of this virus or a lot of people will die. We must buy time for our medical system to prepare. We mustn’t panic, but we must act fast and decisively.

To fight this deadly virus together, we need to stay two metres apart.

Please pass this message on!


Adam Welz


Those of you who would like to read more about the research and science behind this open letter can follow these links:

This is a good summary for non-scientists about ways of spread:

Here is a good article from CNN about asymptomatic transmission:

This study details asymptomatic spread in a shopping mall in China:
Here’s a relevant Twitter threat from Harvard epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding:
Here’s an excellent article by a top epidemiologist about how different countries’ actions can change how COVID-19 will affect their population: 
Here’s an article about how the virus can spread via faeces (poo) and how that can endanger the population:

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