Melanie Verwoerd | My family got Covid-19: What we have learnt in the past week

ou might not know that you have it

Our symptoms differed vastly. My one child was desperately ill. She ran a very high fever for about four days, developed a bad cough and became very short of breath.

For all of us it started with diarrhoea and then we bizarrely lost our sense of taste and smell.

However, for my son and I it felt more like a very bad head cold.

We never had a fever but felt extreme exhaustion, had sore throats and tight chests.

Given the severity of my daughter’s symptoms, we knew that she was likely to have contracted the Covid-19 virus even before it was confirmed. However, if it wasn’t for her and of course the public awareness education, we would have assumed that we only had bad colds.

So this is the good news: for most people it will only feel like a head cold. But it is also the bad news. You can have it and not even know it and by not distancing yourself from others you will infect other people who are not as strong as you and might die from it.

My daughter was very run down when she contracted it and thus her symptoms were severe – despite being younger than 30 years of age. My son and I were healthier and have got through it relatively easily.

In our country where millions of people have compromised immune systems, this epidemic will make them VERY, VERY ill and many will die if it reaches them.Avoid big gatherings

Our best guess is that we contracted it at a wedding on 12 March (three days before the president’s announcement), with a large group of foreign guests in attendance. Importantly, as far as we know no one had any symptoms at the time.

Given how infectious Covid-19 is, we had to inform all the guests who also had to go into isolation as soon as we got sick to prevent any further spread.

From international experience we know that this disease spreads fast. At the time of our event there were only a handful of confirmed cases in South Africa and no restrictions were yet in place.

A week later the numbers have jumped exponentially and it will undoubtedly continue to grow unless people start taking it seriously and like ourselves and our guests, isolate.

It doesn’t matter who ‘gave’ it to you

Although virologists and the government want to be able to trace the epidemic, it makes very little sense on a personal level to try and figure out where you got it.

In our case there are hundreds of possibilities. We have also immediately experienced how panic can make people deeply intolerant. It seems there is only one thing that spreads faster than the virus and that is false news and rumours about it.

The minister of health said a few days ago that 60% of the population is likely to contract the virus. The problem is that given the panic and misinformation on social media, there are already stories of people who wore masks being thrown off taxis and suspected cases being threatened with violence.

We know how misinformation and panic in the early stages of the HIV pandemic caused the deaths of many people – not by the virus, but by people killing themWhat doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

We have to stand together as a country to fight this. Therefore, whilst we have to isolate, we also have to care deeply about all our fellow citizens. Perhaps we should rather start talking about physical distancing and social cohesion.

This virus does not discriminate between race, class or gender. There is nowhere in the world to flee to, nowhere to hide. We are inextricably bound together in this fight.

How each one of us behaves in the next few weeks will determine if and to what extent we will still have an economy, social cohesion and peace once this epidemic is over. As South Africans we have to immediately pay attention, do the right thing and help each other.

This is not about trying to see how we can “cheat” the government’s regulations by ordering more drinks just before 6 pm or still getting together or (yes, Minister Zulu) strolling around Melrose Arch on shopping expeditions.

It is about the survival of our nation.