South Africa is now in lockdown level 1.
Advice on Coronavirus for Food Workers – See panel on the right.
FAQ – SARS-CoV-2 (“Coronavirus”) – Original posting 31 January 2020 – Fourteenth update 19 November 2020.
Download a scientific review article by Anelich et al, 2020 on SARS-CoV-2 and Risk to Food Safety
What is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large group of viruses that are common in many different species of animals. They cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The common cold is something we are all familiar with – this is often caused by what is termed “common human coronaviruses” of which there are many different strains.
The current virus that was reported on 31 December 2019 for the first time by China, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. It has been given the name SARS-CoV-2 and it causes Covid-19 (coronavirus disease).
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared this outbreak a pandemic.
How does one contract the illness known as Covid-19?
As yet, the original source of the SARS-CoV-2 is not known, even though it has been speculated that pangolins are involved; however, this link is inconclusive at this stage. It is still believed to be zoonotic though (jumped from animal to human).
The primary modes of transmission of infection are:
- From person-to-person (close contact….touching, shaking hands etc),
- Via droplets spread by coughing and sneezing.
One can also get the infection from contaminated surfaces (also known as fomites), although this mode of transmission does not appear to be a primary route of transmission.
According to Public Health England, you have to be in close contact with an infected person – within two metres to be at risk. This can happen at the workplace, in health care centres, hospitals, in a home, buses, taxis, trains, practically anywhere. Frequently touched surfaces include public handrails, lift buttons, money, shopping trolley handles etc. Wash hands well (for at least 20 seconds) after being out in public and sanitize them often. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer gel with at least 60 % alcohol (70% alcohol according to South African regulations) to disinfect hands.
What are the symptoms of infection?
The most common symptoms of infection are:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of sense of smell (anosmia) or even taste now seems to be more common
Loss of smell seems to develop by day 3.
Other symptoms may be fatigue, body aches, headaches, sore throat, chills. There are also reports of nausea and diarrhoea. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia with difficulty breathing, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney and liver failure and even death.
How long does it take for symptoms to show?
Symptoms of Covid-19 typically show between 2-14 days after infection. This is why people who have come into contact with an infected person should self-isolate and seek medical assistance by calling the national toll free number 0800 029 999 or their doctor for assistance. It is now known that some people will have light symptoms and not go to the doctor, whilst some people do not show any symptoms and are asymptomatic. The latter may develop symptoms after the 14 day incubation period or may not. They can still spread the virus, however. There is growing evidence that asymptomatic people make up a greater percentage of Covid-19 positive individuals than originally thought.
Who is most at risk?
Everyone is potentially at risk i.e. there is no zero risk. However, high risk cases remain mainly older people and people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and HIV. Obesity is also a risk factor. Children and babies are less likely to be infected. If infected, children and babies are likely to have mild symptoms but, they can still spread the virus to others. In very few cases, children develop an inflammatory condition that can be serious.
What is the death rate?
The number of cases and deaths change on a daily basis. It is best to obtain these figures from the World Health Organization. The overall death rate changes but is at the 2-3% mark, which is still less than the death rate for the SARS-CoV-1 virus, which caused the outbreak in China in 2003 – that death rate ran at 10% even though fewer people in total were infected (around 8000 infections with 800 deaths). The MERS virus had far fewer cases but had a 34% death rate. SARS-CoV-2 is far more infectious than SARS-CoV-1 as there are many more cases and the virus is now on all continents except for Antarctica. What often does not make the headlines, is that the majority of people who contract the virus, recover. South Africa reports daily on recovered patients as well. There are many thousands of people who will only have mild symptoms.
What is the situation in South Africa?
On 05 March 2020, the South African National Department of Health announced the first case of Covid-19 in South Africa. Since then, numbers have increased and deaths have occurred. On 15 March 2020, the South African President addressed the nation, declaring a national state of disaster, as well as announcing a number of important measures to limit the spread of the virus. On 26 March 2020 at midnight, South Africa went into a very strict lockdown (Level 5) for 21 days until 16 April 2020 to try and limit spread of the infection and to flatten the curve. Level 5 lockdown was extended to end of April. On 01 May 2020, South Africa moved to level 4 of lockdown, which allowed for gradual re-opening of the economy and on 01 June 2020, the country moved to level 3. On 15 August 2020, South Africa moved to level 2. On 21 September 2020, SA moved to level 1. As South Africa enters into summer months and there is greater movement of people, the number of cases may increase, as has occurred in some nations in the northern hemisphere.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) is the official body that coordinates public testing for Covid-19 in South Africa. Private medical laboratories are also offering testing services.
Is there treatment or a vaccine available?
There is no treatment for Covid-19, despite many myths on the internet and social media (see below). Treatment is based on symptoms according to the patient’s clinical condition. Supportive care for infected persons is usually highly effective. There are numerous trials being conducted to find a cure and work is ongoing to develop a vaccine and some companies are beginning to report advancements. South Africa is participating in several vaccine trials.
Can the virus (SARS-CoV-2) be transmitted through food?
There is no evidence to suggest that the virus is transmitted through food, food packaging or food ingredients. A review article written by Prof Anelich and 3 co-authors called “SARS-CoV-2 and Risk to Food Safety” was published by Frontiers on 02 November 2020. It has been welcomed widely, including by the United Nations (FAO).
Good personal behaviour around food must be practiced i.e. not sneezing or coughing over food, washing hands with soap for the required 20 seconds and more….these are practices that the food industry has been practicing for decades under “normal” circumstances in the food industry. The World Health Organization has provided advice for the food industry.
Can this Coronavirus live on surfaces?
Viruses cannot grow outside their host but in many cases, they can survive on surfaces for different periods of time depending on temperature, humidity and the type of surface. New research shows that this coronavirus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel. It must be emphasised though, that experiments are conducted in controlled environments, which do not necessarily reflect what occurs in practice.
How can I protect myself?
Standard personal hygiene practices, as well as food safety practices in the kitchen, are key to prevent spread of many microorganisms, including SARS-CoV-2.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or one’s sleeve.
- Throw any used tissues into the bin immediately and wash hands (see next point).
- Wash hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (as has always been touted in the food industry). Do this regularly, but especially after getting home from public areas and before preparing/eating food and after using tissues to blow one’s nose or to cough into.
- Use hand sanitizer after washing hands or if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer gel. Hand sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol (70% alcohol in South Africa) to be effective. Note: If hands are exceptionally dirty or greasy, hand sanitizer will not work. Hands need to be washed with soap and water first and then sanitized, if needed.
- Avoid contact with people who are showing flu-like symptoms, in particular fever and coughing – keep at least a distance of 1.5 metres (preferably 2 metres) from another person.
- Wear masks in public (required by law in South Africa).
- Do not touch your face, eyes, nose, mouth with unwashed hands.
Wearing masks in public and at work is now law in South Africa. However, it is vital that masks do not create a false sense of security. Research has shown that 2 important practices remain key to preventing transmission of the virus. These are:
- Practice proper hand hygiene by washing hands regularly with soap and water and/or sanitize with a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol (70% alcohol in SA).
- Keep a social distance of at least 1.5 metres, preferably 2 metres.
Wearing masks is an additional measure in the fight against transmission of the virus, not a replacement for hand washing and social distancing. The World Health Organization has provided advice on masks as well and is well worth reading.
Are there any disinfectants that work against SARS-CoV-2?
For the food industry, the Environmental Protection Agency of the USA has published “list N” which contains a list of disinfectants that can be used. The NRCS in South Africa also lists what is registered for use in SA. Other disinfectants include household bleach at 0.1% concentration for 1 minute contact time (this can be increased to 0.5% concentration), hydrogen peroxide at 0.5% concentration for 1 minute contact time and 70% alcohol for 1 minute contact time are effective against the virus. Common hand sanitizer gels worked against SARS-CoV-1 and are effective against SARS-CoV-2 as well, provided they contain at least 60% alcohol (70% alcohol in SA). If using wipes to disinfect surfaces, do not use plain “wet wipes”, but look for “disinfectant wipes”. Normal wet wipes do not contain disinfectant and will be useless against SARS-CoV-2. Remember to throw the wipes away immediately into a waste bin after use and then wash your hands with soap and water or if not available, use hand sanitizer gel.
Most Important: This virus IS controllable, provided that we all work together and take responsibility for our actions. Follow basic hygienic behaviour and arm yourselves with the right information. Click here and here for a list of myths related to SARS-CoV-2.
ANSES (French Authorities)
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention USA
Food and Drug Administration USA
Food Standards Agency UK
Public Health Agency of Canada