Johannesburg - The spread of the coronavirus to South Africa will have a huge impact on travel and a negative impact on the already struggling South African economy, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday.
Ramaphosa was speaking hours after the first case of the virus, called COVID-19, was confirmed in South Africa.
"We will keep informing South Africans openly and transparently about a number of steps we will be taking because this will turn out to be a national crisis," the president said.
"It will have a huge impact on travel, and a negative impact also on our economy. It is already showing signs of having a negative impact on our tourism."
The rand weakened after news of the case, falling around 1.6 percent against the dollar as of 1500 GMT.
South Africa on Thursday confirmed its first case of coronavirus, a man who had visited Italy, and the health minister warned it would test the country's health system.
"The National Institute for Communicable Diseases confirmed that a suspected case of COVID-19 has tested positive," the health ministry said.
"The patient is a 38-year-old male who traveled to Italy with his wife. They were part of a group of 10 people and they arrived back in South Africa on March 1, 2020," it added.
The coronavirus - COVID-19, as the new strain is called - is thought to have originated in a market selling wildlife in Wuhan late last year. It has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 3,000, mostly in China.
"I think we need to be upfront about it ... Our system will be tested by the impact of coronavirus," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament.
Last week Ramaphosa ordered the repatriation of nearly 200 citizens from Wuhan. Mkhize said those citizens will be returning home in the next few days. He added that South Africa was working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and some African institutions to help diagnose the virus across the region.
The health ministry said the patient, in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, had been self-isolating since Tuesday after consulting a doctor over symptoms of coughing, a sore throat, headaches and a fever.
The doctor has also self-quarantined.
The health officials said a "tracer team" had been deployed to the province together with epidemiologists and clinicians to further investigate the circumstances of the infection.