Coronavirus in SA: Ramaphosa urges South Africans not to panic

By Tebogo Monama and Siyabonga Mkhwanazi Time of article published Mar 6, 2020

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Johannesburg - President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared that South Africa is ready and prepared to deal with any cases of the coronavirus.

Ramaphosa on Thursday urged South Africans to remain calm shortly after the government announced the first confirmed Covid-19 case in the country.

A man who tested positive had just returned from a trip to Italy with a group of 10 people, including his wife.

Italy has had one of the highest confirmed cases outside China where the respiratory disease broke out in December.

The situation in Italy is so dire that schools and universities have been closed until March 15. On the African continent, there have been confirmed cases in Algeria, Senegal and Nigeria.

The group of 10, which included the infected man, entered the country via OR Tambo International Airport, where scanners were unable to pick up any Covid-19 symptoms from him. The group took another flight to King Shaka International Airport in KwaZulu-Natal.

Ramaphosa applauded the swift response of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in dealing with the country’s first case of the virus.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize yesterday confirmed the case and said that they were now keen to find and test the group who were on the plane with the patient.

“We are taking no chances. We will contact the people who were in front rows and behind him because cross-infection might have been easy.”

Mkhize also underlined that the public should not panic.

He said it wouldn’t be hard to trace the people and once found, they would be placed in self-quarantine and tested and monitored.

COVID-19 has spread to many countries across the world, with one such case now having been reported in South Africa. Graphic: African News Agency (ANA)

The tracer team has been deployed to KwaZulu-Natal with epidemiologists and clinicians from the NICD.

Mkhize said the 38-year-old man consulted a private GP on Tuesday, with symptoms of fever, headache, malaise, a sore throat and cough. A nurse took swabs and delivered it to the laboratory, which confirmed he was infected.

Currently, the man, his wife and two young children are in self-quarantine in their home where they receive visits from medical staff daily. The doctor who attended to the man has also placed himself in self-quarantine.

Mkhize said the scanners at the airport were unable to detect the virus because the man didn't show symptoms when he landed.

“The person didn't have symptoms. Chances are that the person was not infectious at that time but we must take precautions and test others,” Mkhize added.

Despite a case being confirmed, Mkhize cautioned the public not to panic. The government has identified 10 hospitals that will treat infected people.

In the next few weeks, the government is expected to repatriate about 200 South Africans who are in China, where the virus originated. They will be quarantined for 21 days.

NCID Professor Cheryl Cohen said: “There is no suggestion that it is spreading in South Africa or KZN. At this point, there is no risk of this spreading to the general public.

Anyone who develops symptoms of respiratory illness including cough, fever and shortness of breath either or during and after recent travel to countries where Covid-19 is known to be circulating, must seek medical care early and share information about their travel history with their healthcare providers.

It is important to note that the identification of a single imported case in a traveller from an area with widespread community transmission does not mean that Covid-19 is currently spreading in South African communities.

The risk to the general community remains low,” she said. The portfolio committee on health will today visit the OR Tambo International Airport to monitor the screening facilities for the virus.

“Following a briefing from the health minister, the committee felt it was necessary to visit OR Tambo to see first-hand screening procedures,” committee chairperson Sibongiseni Dhlomo said. Ramaphosa also announced yesterday that it would cost R25 million to repatriate 151 South Africans from Wuhan, China.

Political Bureau

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