Experts: Critical that public remains focused on health as country braces itself for COVID-19 peak
After months of coronavirus restrictions, including a hard lockdown, South Africans are starting to allow cracks to form in their protective Coronavirus armour as their willpower starts to wane.
In recent weeks a surge in snaps and videos of family gatherings, braais with friends, neighbourhood get-togethers and birthday bashes have surfaced on social media – showing signs that South Africans are lowering their guard.
Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, says that up until now, the preventative practices of wearing masks, physical distancing and frequent hand sanitising have kept cold and flu viruses at bay.
“Influenza cases usually spike around mid to late April in South Africa’s flu season, but to date there has been little sign of it. The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms has also been delayed. However, it is critical that we keep flu cases low to avoid overburdening our already stretched healthcare system as we near the COVID-19 peak,” says Jennings.
Jennings cautions that as lockdown rules ease, the public shouldn’t become lax in adhering to health and safety regulations, “By now everyone is experiencing quarantine or social distancing fatigue, and many may be looking for ways to ‘cheat’ as ‘safely’ as possible. In time, people will want to expand the circle of people they see. Already, parents are allowing their children to ride bikes together with friends and are experimenting with picnics and socially distanced walks, while wearing masks.
“People are yearning for some normalcy, but the reality is, the more we mingle – even when wearing masks and social distancing – it increases our risk of infection.
“Our response to the easing of the lockdown will largely depend on our individual approaches to risk taking. The more risk-friendly among us, will welcome the newly sanctioned freedoms, whereas those that are more risk-averse will feel cautious about navigating the new normal.
“Keeping ourselves healthy and finding ways to boost our immune system has never been more important.”
For those living with a partner or family member that has a compromised immune system or underlying medical conditions, Jennings has the following advice:
- The first line of defense is to practice good hygiene. Wash your hands well with soap and water, especially before preparing food and after sneezing, coughing or using the bathroom.
- Good nutrition from a well-balanced diet is key to a strong immune system. Choose fresh, plant-based foods as much as possible. Frozen fruit and vegetables are also a good choice. At least two thirds of your plate should be filled with vegetables, whole grains and fruit. The remaining third can be protein from lean animal or plant-based sources. Also try to limit the amount of processed foods you purchase.
- If you are unable to follow a well-balanced diet, take a multi-vitamin or an immune-boosting supplement to top you up.
- If you’re working from home or at the office, take regular breaks – especially if you’re sitting for most of the day. Be sure to stand up and stretch at least every hour. Your body needs the mental and physical time-out.
- Stay hydrated by drinking between six and eight glasses of water a day. It will also help reduce cravings for unhealthy food.
- Beat stress and anxiety by exercising regularly. Try walking or running outside or performing any home-based workout – YouTube is a great source for home workout videos.
- Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake.
- End your day with a good night’s sleep. Healthy sleeping habits promote good sleep that is needed to maintain strong immunity.
Should mild cold and flu symptoms arise, Jennings recommends treating it with over-the-counter pain relievers that will help reduce symptoms such as a fever, sore throat and headache. Antihistamines and decongestant nasal sprays will also reduce nasal congestion, while cough syrups will help to break up phlegm. Drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough rest is also vital.
“The healthier you are and the better you take care of your immune system, the less likely you are to fall ill,” Jennings explains.
She says if you suspect you may have COVID-19, it’s best to self-quarantine and to contact your GP over the phone first before going to their rooms, “Your doctor will ask you specific questions in order to properly assess you telephonically and then advise whether you should be tested for COVID-19.
“Doctors and other admin staff around the country have been trained to deal with COVID-19 cases and will take the necessary safety precautions to assist you promptly when you arrive while safeguarding themselves and others from possible infection,” says Jennings.