What you should know about social distancing

16 March 2020 - 17:08
By Londiwe Dlomo
Young man with tongs kindle the coal at hookah bar
Image: 123rf/Sergiy Tryapitsyn Young man with tongs kindle the coal at hookah bar

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement on Sunday of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, which included specified travel bans, South Africans find themselves having to ponder on new ways to observe old practices.

It's a cultural thing for people to greet with handshakes, especially with men. Women usually prefer hugging each other when greeting other women, but both traditions have come under scrutiny following the measure announced by the president.

Above all, the prohibition of gatherings by 100 or more people has confounded the nation.

For many people who depend on public transport to commute will find this "prohibition" hard to deal with because they are powerless to decide how many people must gather at the bus terminus or taxi rank. 

During the inter-ministerial presser on Monday, cooperative governance and traditional affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma admitted that there was a lot of "detailed things" to look at in terms of social distancing as it is an "alien" concept to South Africans.

She made an example of behaviour at African funerals.

“When people go to a funeral, they come back and wash their hands in the same basin,” she said.

She suggested the use of sanitisers and soap.

“You may have to add an additional basin after they’ve washed, that will have your sanitisers or the soap and water. So there are a lot of detailed things that we have to look at in terms of how we deal with our social,” she added.

Interestingly, she omitted to note that funerals in black communities are unlikely to be attended by less than 100 people.

Here are some of the ways in which people can practice social distancing:


In an ideal world, the city could put more busses on all the various routes to combat overcrowding in the busses/ public transport system. Some other precautions that can be taken on public transport is the hygiene precautions that have already been communicated such as sneezing/coughing into a tissue or your elbow, keep windows open. Using disinfectant wipes to wipe down the places where people touch frequently, including your phone, with an alcohol-based wipe.

Keeping a distance from each other in the line while waiting for your transport might help. For those who can avoid travelling at peak hours do so.


Avoid sharing of cigarettes, hookah pipes (used when smoking hubbly) and kissing. Do not shake hands or hug, if it really is a must you can bump elbows with someone as a way of greeting.

Try to avoid visiting family members who are elderly and immune-compromised just as a precaution. Although a designated family member can be sent to check up on them.

Postpone gatherings that can be moved to a later date. A large gathering of people whose health history you do not know can be problematic. It would be safer to stay home.

Going to the store

President Ramaphosa urged businesses to do their part in preventing the spread of the virus. Most grocers have had antibacterial wipes for their trolleys for years now, use these to wipe down the handles on the trolley. Go to the grocery shop at odd/quieter hours to avoid crowding.

Gym Keep your distance, and wipe down all surfaces using disinfectant wipes, yes this includes the seat on the spinning cycle not just the handlebars.

If you are genuinely concerned, call the NICD’s general public hotline at 0800-029-999, Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm.Or Use the department of Health’s hotline service on

Whatsapp, save the number (0600 123 456) as a contact, simply say hi and a menu will appear and proceed from there.