Patient Resources

What is Coronavirus/COVID-19 disease?

SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus that was identified in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019. The disease caused by this virus is known as COVID-19. It has now spread to all continents and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on the 11th March 2020. Currently there is widespread community transmission of the virus in South Africa.

How is the COVID-19 virus spread?

The virus that causes COVID-19 disease probably emerged from an animal source, but is now spreading from person to person through respiratory droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. It is also possible to get infected by touching a surface or an object that has been contaminated with the virus from someone coughing or sneezing in the vicinity, and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth, where the virus can infect you through the mucous membranes.

How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

The following simple measures will help protect you and your family from infection:


  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Don’t touch your eyes, mouth or nose
  • Wash your hand frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser (at least 60%)
  • Practice social distancing
  • Practice good cough and sneeze etiquette

Although wearing a mask has not been proven to prevent you from becoming infected, it is recommended that you wear a cloth mask to protect others should you be infected. Surgical and N95 masks are in limited supply and need to be reserved for healthcare workers to protect them from becoming infected from the patients they are managing

Should I get vaccinated for influenza?

Currently there is no vaccine available for protection against COVID-19, however it is highly recommended that all South Africans have an influenza vaccination that can confer protection in that it may offset the “double whammy” of contracting both viruses at the same time.

What are the symptoms of the novel Coronavirus infection?

Patients with COVID-19 may have no symptoms, mild to moderate symptoms or severe symptoms. Flu-like symptoms typically develop from 5 to 7 days, but as many as 14 days after becoming infected with the virus. The most common respiratory symptoms include cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, anosmia (loss of sense of smell) or dysgeusia (alteration of sense of taste), with or without other symptoms (which may include fever, weakness, myalgia or diarrhoea).

The elderly and those with chronic medical conditions such as chronic heart or lung disease, diabetics, high blood pressure, chronic kidney and liver disease, are immune compromised due to treatment or disease, pregnant, and a number of other chronic diseases such as Parkinsons, MS and motor neuron disease, are particularly vulnerable and at risk for severe infection with COVID-19 that may require hospitalisation.

What must I do if I need a COVID-19 test?

When should I go for a COVID-19 test?

You will be referred by your doctor for a COVID-19 PCR test should you meet the NICD case definition for suspected COVID-19 and/or before admission to hospital. This is a highly accurate test that detects the genetic material of the COVID-19 virus.

It is important to note that many individuals with active COVID-19 will have no symptoms at all or only mild symptoms, but are nevertheless infectious to others. Therefore, in order to identify these individuals, hospitals in SA have instituted mandatory testing for COVID-19 before admission in order to minimize the risk of infection to other patients as well as healthcare workers in the hospital.

The NICD suspected COVID-19 case definition is:

Any person presenting with an acute (≤14 days) respiratory tract infection or other clinical illness compatible with COVID-19, or an asymptomatic person who is a close contact¹ of a confirmed² case

  • Symptoms include ANY of the following respiratory symptoms: cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, anosmia (loss of sense of smell) or dysgeusia (alteration of sense of taste), with or without other symptoms (which may include fever, weakness, myalgia or diarrhoea)
  • NOTE: Asymptomatic close contacts should not be routinely tested despite meeting the suspected case definition. However, testing may be indicated in certain circumstances e.g. institutions such as care homes
1Close contact:
  • A person having had face-to-face contact (≤1 meter) or who has been in a closed space with a confirmed case for at least 15 minutes. This includes, amongst others, all persons living in the same household as a case, and people working closely in the same environment as a case.
  • Healthcare workers or other people providing direct care for a case, while not wearing recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) e.g. gowns, gloves, N95 respirator and eye protection.
  • A contact in an aircraft sitting within 2 seats (in any direction) of the case, travel companions or persons providing care, and crew members serving in the section of the aircraft where the case was seated
2Confirmed case:
  • A person with laboratory confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 infection (using an RT-PCR assay), irrespective of clinical signs and symptoms.
  • Symptomatic cases are considered infectious from 2 – 3 days before symptom onset to 14 days after symptom onset
Please Note: If you are showing any of the above symptoms you should consult with your doctor or clinic. If your doctor refers you for a COVID-19 test, once you have had your sample taken, you should go straight home and self-quarantine until you receive your results.

Should I be referred for a COVID-19 test by my Doctor?

Yes you should. Contact your doctor telephonically if you suddenly develop any of the symptoms mentioned above, or flu-like illness, especially after having contact with a person with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection. Your doctor will determine whether you should go into his consulting room or whether he will consult with you telephonically. If your doctor suspects that you have been exposed to COVID-19, the doctor may refer you for a COVID-19 test directly, to prevent possible risk of exposure to the doctors consulting room staff and other patients should you be COVID-19 positive.

If your doctor refers you for COVID-19 testing and once you have had your sample taken, you should go straight home and self-quarantine until you receive your result.

If you suddenly fall very ill with the above symptoms, you may need to immediately go to your local hospital's casualty department as you may be required to be admitted to hospital.

Where and when can I be tested FOR COVID-19?

Not all Ampath Depots are available for COVID-19 sample collections due to the risk of exposure to other vulnerable patients.

Ampath has assigned a number of Ampath sites country-wide as designated COVID-19 collection centres. Some of these are drive-through type of collection facilities and some are temporary sites. The purpose of these is to give you easy access to a safe facility where you can be seen with minimal risk of spreading the infection to other patients.


Click here to view Ampath’s designated COVID-19 collection centres.

What do I take with me to have my sample taken?

You need to bring two forms with you to the COVID-9 sample collection site:

  1. An Ampath test request form:

    Your doctor should give you an Ampath test request form on which a COVID-19 test is requested. Please complete all your personal details, address and medical aid information on this form prior to going to the collection site

    Your doctor may perform an electronic order for you after your first consult , this will then allow you to complete these forms including the Contact Tracing form electronically. It will provide you with an electronic order number that you must bring with you, and provide to the nursing staff at the sample collection site.

  2. A NICD Contact Tracing Form:

    This form is required by the NICD and Department of Health and is sent to them together with your test results by Ampath. This allows them to trace your contacts should you test positive for the COVID-19 virus.

    Before coming to the sample collection site, you must record all the people that you have been in close contact with from 72 hours prior to the onset of your symptoms, or, to the date that you are having the sample collected in the case of hospital pre-admission testing.

  3. A Mask

    For your safety and that of the collection site staff, please ensure that you are wearing your mask when you arrive at the collection site

What CAN I EXPECT when I arrive at a SAMPLE collection site?

Some COVID-19 sample collection sites are “drive through” sites where you will be required to stay in your vehicle and the nursing staff will do the administration and collect your sample whilst you are in your vehicle.Whereas at other sites, you will be required to exit your vehicle to be attended to at the collection site structure (which may be in a temporary structure reserved specifically for this purpose).

The staff at these sites will be wearing full PPE (personal protective equipment) such as disposable hazmat suits, aprons, masks, and gloves. They will also wear either face visors or safety goggles. They will discard their gloves after each sample collection and put on new disposable gloves for each patient.

They will require you to sanitise your hands and wear your mask while they perform the administration tasks and take payment. They will ask you to remove your mask only when taking the sample, after which you will need to replace your mask and re-sanitise your hands before leaving the sample collection site.

What sample is taken for the COVID19 test?

COVID-19 PCR tests require either a nasopharyngeal swab, a nasal mid-turbinate swab, a nasal swab or an oropharyngeal swab.

The collection of the nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal sample may be slightly uncomfortable, but the actual swabbing only takes a few seconds.

Please note that as the COVID-19 infection rate increases throughout South Africa and the number of people requiring COVID-19 testing increases, these collection sites are becoming extremely busy so delays are anticipated due to the high volumes of patients turning up for testing.

What is the cost of the COVID-19 test?

The COVID-19 test costs R850.00 incl. VAT. The various payment methods are:

  1. You can pay via EFT prior to coming to the sample collection site and bring your proof of payment with you. Should this be your preference, please use your ID number as a reference number on this EFT payment. The AMPATH banking details are available on this Ampath website at: https://www.ampath.co.za/accounts/efts
  2. Pay R850.00 at the time of sample collection either by debit or credit card, or by cash. If you are paying by cash, please pay with the exact amount as the collection site will not have change available.
  3. If a member of a medical aid scheme, check upfront if they will pay for the test. Some medical aids pay from risk benefits and some pay from savings.

How long will the test take?

The test result should be available within 72 to 96 hours depending on the patient priority (ill hospitalised patients and health care workers will be given priority), the travel distance between the sample collection site and the testing laboratory, and the volume of tests at the performing laboratory.

Can I receive my own COVID-19 results?

Yes you can receive your own COVID-19 results and other laboratory results if you register for Patient Results on our AMPATH website https://www.ampath.co.za/my-lab-results

Will my doctor receive my COVID-19 results?

Yes - your doctor will receive an SMS as soon as your results have been released. Your doctor will then be able to guide you through what you need to do should you test COVID-19 positive.

What happens if I test positive for COVID-19?

You will be referred by your doctor for a COVID-19 PCR test should you meet the NICD case definition for suspected COVID-19 and / or before admission to hospital. This is a highly accurate test that detects the genetic material of the COVID-19 virus. It is important to note that many individuals with active COVID-19 have no symptoms at all or only mild symptoms. In order to identify these individuals who have no/minimal symptoms (but are nevertheless infectious to others), hospitals in SA have instituted mandatory testing for COVID-19 before admission in order to minimize the risk of infection to other patients as well as healthcare workers in the hospital.


What does it mean if I test positive for COVID-19?

A positive COVID-19 PCR result confirms that you are infected with SARS-CoV-2 and that you can spread it to others. Your doctor will contact you to discuss the implications of this finding and the next steps to take, whether this be to self-isolate at home and/or on your planned hospital admission.

As COVID-19 is a Category 1 Notifiable Medical Condition, all Doctors are legally required to notify the Department of Health of any positive patients in their care. Ampath will also send your results and the Contact Tracing form to the NICD and Department of Health. The Department of Health will contact you as they are responsible for ensuring isolation and contact tracing of all persons who test positive.


What does it mean if I test negative for COVID-19?

A negative COVID-19 PCR result means that you are very unlikely to have active COVID-19. However, it is possible that you are very early in your infection and are already infectious, as the test only becomes positive after a few days. It is also possible that you could have become infected with COVID-19 after the sample was taken. It is also possible for subjects with active COVID-19 infection (many of whom have no or only mild symptoms) to test negative during the course of their infection (as outlined below). Thus, even if you test negative, you should still take precautions to protect yourself and others.

I tested positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms. Should I have a second test to check?

No. Many individuals with active COVID-19 do not have symptoms at all and the potential for a positive result in someone that is not infected with COVID-19 (a false positive test result) is extremely unlikely. Moreover, a negative COVID-19 result in a second test would not invalidate the positive result of the first test. With respect to COVID-19 tests in general, a negative test result is far less reliable than a positive result (getting a false negative is far more likely than getting a false positive). This is because it is well established that patients infected with COVID-19 can intermittently test negative during the course of their illness. In addition to the ever-present potential for inadequate sampling, shedding of the virus can be intermittent and a specimen taken at the time when the virus is not actively being shed may give a false negative result.

Thus there is no point in having a second test to check: a negative result would not invalidate the positive result previously obtained. Hence, in the interests of your own health and the health of those with whom you may come into contact, a positive test result will be managed as such even if you have no symptoms.

Should you have any queries regarding your COVID-19 test result, please contact your Doctor or consult the CDC website: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/diagnostic-testing.html


If I test COVID-19 positive, how do I self-isolate and for how long do I self-isolate?

If you are infected and are asymptomatic i.e. you show no symptoms, you must stay at home and self-isolate for 14 days from the date of your COVID-19 positive test. If you have mild symptoms, you must stay at home and self-isolate for 14 days from when your symptoms started. In the case of severe respiratory illness or severe shortness of breath you need to immediately consult with your doctor or go to the nearest hospital emergency unit.

If self-isolating at home, to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to other people in your household:
  • You should stay in a specific room and use your own bathroom (if possible). You should avoid unnecessary travel and unnecessary contact with other people.
  • Where contact is unavoidable, you should wear a facemask, and maintain a distance of at least 1 metre (preferably 2 metres) from other people
  • You should clean your hands with soap and water frequently. Alcohol-based sanitizers may also be used, provided they contain at least 60% alcohol.
  • You should practice good cough and sneeze hygiene, by using a tissue, and then immediately discarding the tissue in a lined trash can, followed by washing your hands immediately.
  • You should not have visitors in your home. Only those who live in your home should be allowed to stay.
  • At home, you should stay in a specific room and use your own bathroom (if possible). If you live in shared accommodation (university halls of residence or similar) with a communal kitchen, bathroom(s) and living area, you should stay in your room with the door closed, only coming out when necessary, wearing a facemask if they do so.
  • You should avoid sharing household items like dishes, cups, eating utensils and towels. After using any of these, the items should be thoroughly washed with soap and hot water.
  • All high-touch surfaces like table tops, counters, toilets, phones, computers, etc. should be appropriately and frequently cleaned. If you need to wash laundry at home before the results are available, then you should wash all laundry at the highest temperature compatible for the fabric using laundry detergent. This should be above 60° C. If possible, you should tumble dry and iron using the highest setting compatible with the fabric. Disposable gloves and a plastic apron should be used when handling soiled materials if possible and all surfaces and the area around the washing machine should be cleaned. Laundry should not be taken to a laundrette. You should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling dirty laundry (remove gloves first if used).
  • You should know who to call if you develop any worsening symptoms, so that you can be safely reassessed.

Why are all these drastic measures necessary to contain the virus?

Globally, we are trying to “flatten the curve”, in other words, we want to prevent a sudden spike in the number of new cases in order to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system. By doing this, we can avoid overloading the system, and ultimately reduce the number of people who become infected and who may develop a severe infection or who may die.


We can do this by keeping close human contact to the minimum (social distancing). Even though most patients will probably only have a mild disease or even be asymptomatic, they can pass on the virus to persons such as the elderly or those with chronic medical conditions who are at higher risk of developing a severe infection and needing hospitalisation.

How long does the virus survive on surfaces?

Preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus suggest that it may survive on surfaces for a few hours, possibly up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).


If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with simple disinfectant or/ household cleaner to kill the virus. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

How can I explain the COVID-19 epidemic to my children?

Manuela Molina has created a short book to support and reassure children, under the age of 7, regarding COVID-19. Click here to read more.

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External Resources

  1. WHO - World Health Organisation
  2. NICD - National Institute for Communicable Diseases