Feeling sick? Please chat to or see your GP before you decide to go to hospital


South Africa's third wave of infection has hospitals (emergency rooms, ICUs, staff and resources) stretched to capacity. We must ensure hospitals are able to help people who have severe COVID illness. That's why people who have mild COVID-19 must consult with their GP for guidance, before going to hospital for treatment.

"It's understandable that people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and dealing with the range of symptoms linked to this disease (full list included for you below) could feel very anxious at times," says the head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery Health, Dr Noluthando Nematswerani.

"This may lead some people to head directly to hospital to be seen by emergency room doctors instead of consulting with their general practitioners first. However, this puts additional strain on the healthcare system - particularly with the high volumes of cases that are seen during this third wave of COVID-19 infection."

In a nutshell: If you have mild or moderate COVID-19, talk to your GP first and only go to hospital if they tell you to do so

"We must make sure that hospitals have the capacity to care for those people who have severe COVID-19 illness, and that they are not allocating time and resources to those who have mild or moderate COVID-19 disease. The many excellent GPs out there must be the first port of call for anyone dealing with these forms of the illness."

"Your GP will provide you with a treatment plan for managing your condition at home and will provide guidance on how to deal with any worsening mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms," adds Dr Nematswerani. "We appeal to all medical scheme members and to the public at large to please take seriously the need to reduce the burden on our hospitals and healthcare providers within these facilities; both during our third wave of infection and throughout the course of the pandemic."

If however you experience the following symptoms at home please seek emergency care:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing (at rest or while speaking)
  • Confusion or altered mental status
  • Loss of speech or mobility

Do you have symptoms of COVID-19? Here's what you should do

The moment you develop symptoms of COVID-19, stay at home and isolate keeping away from others in the household. Then, call your GP's practice and ask them what their COVID-19 consultation procedures are.

You may:

  1. Talk to your doctor on the phone for advice
  2. Be asked to go to the practice and be dealt with in a dedicated COVID-19 care area
  3. Be able to see your doctor through an online consultation
  4. If you don't have a dedicated GP:

It has never been this easy to get the best care.

Follow the doctor's guidelines about accessing a COVID-19 test.

If you have COVID-19:

  1. Follow your doctor's advice on self-isolation for at least ten days at home.
  2. Monitor your symptoms and let your doctor know if they worsen so that they can guide you about whether you need extra medicine or to go to hospital.

Want access to rapid COVID-19 testing?

Discovery Health Medical Scheme members can access antigen tests (and more) at conveniently located drive-through facilities.


When is your GP likely to refer you to hospital for care?

"When diagnosed with COVID-19 you must monitor your symptoms carefully and alert your GP immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Persistent pain or pressure on your chest
  • A bluish colour on your lips or face
  • Oxygen saturation levels that drop below 90% when you use a pulse oximeter to regularly measure your oxygen saturation at home. 
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing that worsens
  • A decline in your ability to concentrate or when you are experiencing confusion

Let's explore the difference between mild, moderate, severe and critical COVID-19 illness and clarify which requires hospital-level care

  1. Mild COVID-19 (the majority of COVID-19 cases) may include fever, a loss of smell or taste, nausea, tiredness, muscle aches, headaches, sore throat, runny nose, mild cough - for seven to 10 days. You may also feel emotionally low - sad or weepy. You should be eating and drinking normally.

    "Keep in mind that people who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness - such as those over the age of 60, those who have one or more chronic illnesses, and those who have compromised immunity for any reason - must monitor their symptoms especially carefully and keep in close contact with their GP in this regard," adds Dr Nematswerani. "Even if they start out dealing with mild COVID-19 illness, they can deteriorate quickly. Please keep in touch with your doctor and report any worsening of your condition soonest."

  2. Moderate COVID-19 means a worsening of mild COVID-19 and may include inflammation in the lower lungs with symptoms like a cough becoming more obvious (but not painful). You may feel breathless and have an increased heart rate when moving about and doing normal activities. Your cough may be persistent for a few days. You do not need hospitalisation at this point.

    You may have a fever, diarrhoea and headache and you might feel tired, feel like your mouth is dry and also feel emotionally low. This may last from seven to 14 days. You should still be eating and drinking normally. If your breathlessness worsens to the point where you cannot manage basic activities or speak without stopping for extra breaths, please talk to your doctor right away.

  3. Severe COVID-19 (requiring hospital-level care) refers to having pneumonia which is most likely in people who are considered at risk of severe COVID-19 illness in general. You may feel very breathless, unable to finish a sentence and you may feel pain when breathing or a tight chest. You may also have fever. Your oxygen saturation levels and blood pressure may be low. Others may notice you are confused and you may not be eating or drinking well.

  4. Critical COVID-19 (requiring hospital-level care) is a case of severe pneumonia, in which case people need help inflating their lungs and are generally assisted by being put onto a ventilator.

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