South Africans and the threat of SARS-CoV-2

3,524,429 infections worldwide and 247,838 deaths worldwide. These stark figures were published at 14h15 (SAST) on 4 May 2020, by the esteemed Johns Hopkins University in the USA.

At this stage, most people around the world undoubtedly know that Covid-19 poses a threat to life as we know it, and this is not any different in South Africa. In an online study of 1,000 South African adults, conducted from 20 to 22 April 2020, 92% agreed that they see the threat of coronavirus to the world as “very high” or “high”. This result is similar to that of the previous month’s results (March 2020), when 94% of online South Africans said that the virus was a “very high” or “high” threat to the world.

Questions were asked on how citizens experienced the threat posed to South Africa, their local communities, their families and themselves:

How high is the level of threat posed by the coronavirus to... South Africa Your local community Your family You personally
Very high threat/High threat 90 87 68 68 53 57 48 53
Moderate threat 9 10 25 20 29 22 30 23
Low/Very low threat 1 2 7 10 17 19 20 22
Don’t know * 1 * 2 1 2 2 2


The findings are consistent over the two iterations of the study - in March and in April 2020 - but it is interesting to see that citizens’ concern about the possibility of their families and themselves getting infected is increasing – currently 57% of online South Africans say that the virus poses a threat to their families (compared to 53% in March), and 53% is concerned about themselves being infected (compared to 48% in March).

Who expresses the strongest views of coronavirus as a threat?

To explore the experience of online South Africans as an increasing threat to us personally, we will look at the views of men and women separately, and at opinions in different provinces.

How high is the level of threat posed by the coronavirus to… You personally Females’ opinion Males’ opinion
Very high threat/High threat 53 50 57
Moderate threat 23 28 17
Low/Very low threat 22 21 24
Don’t know 2 1 2


Men perceive coronavirus to be a larger threat to them personally than women do, however, almost three in every ten (28%) women say it poses a moderate threat, compared to only 17% of men.  It thus seems as if women are slightly more cautious in expressing their views about the threat posed by the virus.

In seven of the nine provinces, online South Africans perceive the threat of coronavirus to them personally to have increased in the month since the survey was undertaken in March 2020.  In Gauteng, the perception did not change much, but in the Eastern Cape the perception of coronavirus as a personal threat decreased with ten percentage points.

It is possible that people in the Eastern Cape are feeling that they are slightly safer than those in the neighbouring provinces, as KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape are experiencing some of the highest infection rates in South Africa. 

How high is the level of threat posed by coronavirus to you personally? Very high threat/ high threat
March 2020
Very high threat/ high threat
April 2020
KwaZulu-Natal 48 65
Mpumalanga 47 64
Northern Cape 44 58
Free State 45 54
Gauteng 53 51
Limpopo 45 51
North West 40 49
Western Cape 43 48
Eastern Cape 54 44

The figures are ranked according to the results per province in April 2020

How serious will the infection be?

Respondents were asked to indicate that, if they were infected by the novel coronavirus, how seriously they think their health would be affected. The table below shows that more than eight in every ten (82%) online South Africans think that infection with this virus would affect their health seriously (“extremely seriously”, “very seriously” or “somewhat seriously”). Less than one in every ten (8%) do not consider the virus to be serious at all, and a further 10% are not sure about how the virus will affect them.

If you were infected by coronavirus or Covid-19, how seriously do you think it would affect your health? April 2020
Extremely seriously 29
Very seriously 24
Somewhat seriously 29
Not at all seriously 8
Don’t know 10


In the Western Cape, Gauteng and North West, slightly smaller proportions of citizens think that an infection with novel coronavirus will be a serious health issue for them - compared to other provinces – this might have to do with the perceived higher quality of healthcare facilities available (especially in Gauteng and the Western Cape).

  The coronavirus poses a very high or a high threat to me personally.
April 2020
An infection with coronavirus/Covid-19 will affect my health extremely seriously, very seriously or somewhat seriously.
April 2020
Limpopo 51 90
Mpumalanga 64 89
KwaZulu-Natal 65 86
Northern Cape 58 85
Free State 54 81
Eastern Cape 44 80
Western Cape 48 79
Gauteng 51 78
North West 49 71

The figures are ranked according to the results per province of the perceived seriousness of the influence of the virus on health 

Protective actions taken

Have you taken any personal actions to protect yourself from the novel coronavirus or Covid-19?

Online South Africans have certainly listened to (some of) the messages distributed on how to try and avoid infection...

  • More than nine in ten are washing their hands more often
  • More than eight in ten are practicing social distancing and are using hand sanitiser
  • Disinfectants and face masks are used by more than six in every ten


  • Some are still stocking up on various items (although it does not look like the “panic buying” of the first few days after lockdown was declared).


It has been communicated repeatedly that the normal flu vaccine will not be effective against the novel coronavirus, but the 12% who got the flu vaccination, as per the table below, might have taken this with the view to the coming winter and not as a precautionary action.

Actions taken April 2020
Washing hands more often 91
Practicing social distancing when going out 82
Using hand sanitiser throughout the day 81
Using more disinfectants 64
Wearing a face mask 63
Stocking up on food 50
Taking additional supplements like Vitamin C, Zinc etc. 47
Stocking up on day-to-day household products such as toilet paper 39
Stocking up on over the counter medicines 26
Stocking up on water 25
Getting a flu vaccination 12
Seeing your doctor for a general health check although you feel fine 10
None of these 1


The above are not the only precautionary measures one can take and many have changed their behaviour with the growing threat of Covid-19.  Respondents were asked what they started doing to protect themselves….

Have you started doing any of the following specifically to protect yourself from the coronavirus or Covid-19? April 2020
Avoiding shaking hands 91
Avoiding close contact with others 87
Not attending church / mosque / shul or religious meetings 82
Cancelling plans to attend events or other large gatherings of people 77
Avoiding public toilets or bathrooms 75
Not going to work 67
Cancelling or postponing plans to take any vacation or leisure travel 63
Cancelling or postponing a trip within South Africa 63
Cancelling or postponing taking a trip by car 63
Cancelling or postponing any plans to travel by air 54
Visiting the South African Health Department’s website for the latest information and advice 40


It is probably safe to say that coronavirus made South Africans more aware of personal space but looking at these results it looks as if most online South Africans try to follow the recommendations from medical professionals and government communications and apply “social distancing”.


About the Study

  • These are the results of an Ipsos South Africa survey conducted from 20 – 22 April 2020 on Ipsos South Africa’s Online platform, with a sample of 1,000 adults aged 18 - 65. Respondents are from all provinces and population groups. The study is representative of the almost two-thirds of South Africans who can access internet at home or on their mobile phones. Ipsos weighted and projected the results to this population.
  • The previous study was conducted from 24 – 27 March 2020 with 1,008 respondents.
  • Where results do not sum to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don't know or not stated responses.
  • The precision of Ipsos online polls is calculated using a credibility interval with a poll of 1,000 accurate to +/- 3.5 percentage points. For more information on the Ipsos use of credibility intervals, please visit the Ipsos website (


For more information on this news release, please contact:

Mari Harris
Director and Political Analyst, Ipsos South Africa
Mobile: +27 (0)82 557 5058

Ezethu Mandlelize
Service Line Manager: Public Affairs, Ipsos South Africa
Mobile: +27 (0)74 617 8023



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