(The letter below was sent to all Funda Wande staff yesterday. A number of people have said it’s been very helpful and might be worthwhile sharing here. Hopefully it’s helpful to others as we enter uncharted territory)
Dear Funda Wande staff,
As many of you will have already seen, on the 11th of March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) as an international ‘pandemic’.
- What is a “pandemic”?
A pandemic is the most serious classification of a disease epidemic and is declared by the WHO. Less severe outbreaks of diseases are classified as “outbreaks” or “epidemics.” Only once a disease outbreak has spread across multiple countries and is deemed ‘out of control’ is it classified as a pandemic (for example Ebola and Zika virus were not pandemics). According to the WHO, since 1900 there have been four pandemics (1) Spanish Flu (H1N1-1918), (2) Asian Flu (H2N2-1957), (3) Hong Kong Flu (H3N32-1968) and (4) Swine Flu (H1N1-2009). All of these were strains of the influenza virus. The current pandemic is the first pandemic of a coronavirus.
- What is a “coronavirus”?
Coronaviruses are usually found in animals (not humans) and only appear in humans when they are transmitted from animals to us. Previous coronaviruses have come from civet cats (SARS-CoV) and camels (MERS-CoV). The current “novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)” has not been previously identified in humans and the animal source of COVID-19 is still being debated, although many think it came from pangolins.
- What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
From WHO: “The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.”
- Guidelines from the WHO
The WHO is the highest medical authority on diseases. These are their guidelines and here is their Q&A page.
- South African Dept of Health guidance on Coronavirus
This is the South African Health Department’s website on Coronavirus. Which has all the details on South Africa’s response, contact numbers etc. Mediclinic also has a useful interactive portal about screening and testing.
- What is happening in SA and around the world?
As of 15 March 2020 there were 61 confirmed cases of Coronavirus. It should be noted that the first confirmed case in South Africa was only discovered 10 days ago (5 March 2020). The rate of infection is growing exponentially as the graph below indicates.
In China they asked people when they started showing symptoms and reported those numbers and dates, not only official diagnoses. That shows that the total number of infections is 5-10 times higher than current official diagnoses. Thus, there are most likely 250-500 infections in South Africa as of today (15 March 2020).
To give you a sense of how the rest of the world is reacting here are some indications:
- All flights are banned from 26 European countries into America (BBC)
- All schools are closed in 30 countries around the world, including in Belgium, France, Germany and Spain (Metro). Nine schools in Cape Town are currently closed after a student at Herzlia tested positive for Coronavirus
- Italy, France and Spain have virtually shut down their entire countries and asked everyone to stay at home (NYT)
- As of Wednesday this week all schools will close until (at least) Easter. All large public gatherings (100+ people) are prohibited and flights into South Africa are now banned from the EU, the US, the UK, South Korea and Iran. See President Ramaphosa’s speech here.
What are we doing about this at Funda Wande?
There are two principles that are influencing our decisions of what to do in light of the pandemic (1) the health and safety of our staff and the people we work with, and (2) our ability to slow the spread of coronavirus in SA. Our decision to act early and decisively is informed by the fact that it is almost guaranteed that within 2 weeks South Africa will also be fully aware of and engaged in efforts to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. Our healthcare system is not equipped to deal with the large numbers of people who will be flooding into it and we need to delay the spread as much as we can. See this article for more information about the rapid spread.
- Cancelling all local and international flights (No FW/BW flights from 15 March – 30 June 2020)
All local and international flights booked from 15 March 2020 to 30 June 2020 should be cancelled, irrespective of whether they have already been booked. We will also not be booking any flights paid for by FW over this period unless personally approved by Nic. As more information becomes available on the extent of the spread these dates may be extended at some point in the future. (This is in keeping with policies of the Endowment, as well as Stellenbosch University and UCT).
- Special precautions for those who are older or have pre-existing medical conditions.
One thing that we do know about the coronavirus is that it disproportionately affects people who are older (60yrs+), have pre-existing medical conditions (diabetes, hypertension, cancer etc. ). If any of these apply to you then you are eligible to work from home for the full duration of Corona pandemic – speak to your line manager.
- Washing hands regularly, don’t touch your face
It seems old-fashioned but the best method of preventing coronavirus is by washing your hands for 20-seconds with soap and water. Soap essentially dissolves the fatty-membrane holding it together so it just falls apart when it comes into contact with soap and water. The way the virus gets into your system is through your nose, your mouth or your eyes. Respiratory droplets (from a cough or a sneeze) that get into your mouth/eye/nose are what infect you. For that reason don’t touch your face, cough into your elbow and wash your hands often.
One of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of the disease is to minimize unnecessary physical contact with others. Stop shaking people’s hands and don’t hug. If people put out their hand to shake your hand or come in for a hug just smile and say “we shouldn’t be shaking hands” There are many alternatives like the foot-tap, the sup, the hip-bump or the bow. Keep at least one meter away from people who show any symptoms of having flu (still smile and be friendly though J).
- If you or a family-member are even a little sick, stay home
If you are feeling even slightly unwell or if a family-member in your household is unwell then please let your line-manager know and stay home and do not come into the office. Either work from home if you feel well enough to work from home or take sick leave. Everyone will be given an additional 5 days of discretionary sick leave from 15 March 2020 to 30 July 2020 (“Special leave” on BambooHR). This is if you are feeling even slightly ill.
We will try and move as many of our meetings to Zoom rather than in-person. This includes FW-FW meetings and FW-external meetings. Try and utilize the functionality of screen-sharing, annotating on your screen etc. on Zoom. Everyone can create their own Zoom account (see FW Handbook). As a norm we will use video (not just audio) and all try and be as responsive to the person speaking as possible (body language is a big part of communication).
- Working from home and spacing out desks
Some FW jobs are possible to do from home. We are encouraging people to work from home where possible. Please confirm with your line manager. For people who cannot work from home (most of the media team) we will space out our desks at the office so you are more than 1m apart.
- Communal medicine and FW-sponsored 2020 flu vaccine
We will make flu medication available in the Cape Town office (anyone can take and use this for themselves). We will also set up an arrangement with Zettlers Pharmacy (12 Mill St Gardens) for anyone who would like to get the “2020 flu shot” and FW will pay for this. (For people in the LP, EC and Wits offices please speak to your line manager to see how they are arranging this in their province). This is not a vaccine against Coronavirus, but it will help you not to get the “normal flu.” That’s helpful because you’re less likely to get sick.
- Occupation-specific measures
The guidelines and procedures here are applicable to all FW/BW staff. Where there are specifics that relate to only one group (like coaches visiting schools), your line manager will set up a meeting to discuss the protocols and the best way forward.
Given that we are only sending this out on Sunday (15 March 2020) and that some people will only see this email on Monday (16 March 2020). Everything in here is effective from 5pm 16 March 2020.
- Don’t lose our humanity and collaborative spirit in the process
Working from home, not hugging or hand-shaking, keeping a distance from others – all of these sound like ways of isolating ourselves from others. While physical distance is necessary to prevent the spread of this virus, that doesn’t mean we can’t make sure we are extra friendly, warm, supportive and encouraging to each other. Watch this short video of Italians in Sienna singing to each other from their balconies to keep their community spirit up while they are forced to stay home while their country is shut down. If you find other examples like this please share them on Slack! Also see here
Also see here: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses
 WHO: “Most people infected with COVID-19 virus have mild disease and recover. Approximately 80% of laboratory confirmed patients have had mild to moderate disease, which includes non-pneumonia and pneumonia cases, 13.8% have severe disease (dyspnea, respiratory frequency ≥30/minute, blood oxygen saturation ≤93%, PaO2/FiO2 ratio 50% of the lung field within 24-48 hours) and 6.1% are critical (respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction/failure). Asymptomatic infection has been reported, but the majority of the relatively rare cases who are asymptomatic on the date of identification/report went on to develop disease. The proportion of truly asymptomatic infections is unclear but appears to be relatively rare and does not appear to be a major driver of transmission. Individuals at highest risk for severe disease and death include people aged over 60 years and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer. Disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild with approximately 2.4% of the total reported cases reported amongst individuals aged under 19 years. A very small proportion of those aged under 19 years have developed severe (2.5%) or critical disease (0.2%).”