Cape Town - South Africa's first case of the coronavirus infection has sparked widespread panic, with many people searching for answers on how to avoid infection and what to do in the event that they suspect they have been exposed.
The Department of Health on Thursday confirmed that a 38-year-old man who had returned from Italy, where he and his wife were part of a tour group, had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, said the confirmation of the first case of coronavirus in South Africa should not put the country in a state of panic.
The meeting with the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday, where he briefed the committee on the state of readiness and response to the outbreak of coronavirus in South Africa, gave an indication that the government will be able to deal with any confirmed cases.
The minister told the portfolio committee on health the 13 designated hospitals would handle any cases.
“We welcome the swift action of the Minister to take the country into confidence by briefing the media,” said Dr Dhlomo. In light of the confirmed case, “the department should strengthen its communication in updating South Africans in order to remove panic and anxiety,” added Dr Dhlomo.
Dr Dhlomo said “we shall await the details of the situation as it unfolds, we need to have those who were with the man who is confirmed with the virus during his travel, to have them traced and protocols adhered to”.
The Department of Health has provided a comprehensive guide to answers of frequently asked questions that South Africans may have surrounding the coronavirus.
Q: How does the virus spread?
This virus probably originally emerged from an animal source but now seems to be spreading from person-to-person. It is important to note that person-to-person spread can happen on a continuum. Some viruses are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so. At this time, it is unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people.
Q: What are the symptoms and complications that 2019-nCoV can cause?
Current symptoms reported for patients with 2019-nCoV have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.
Q: How can I help protect myself?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent 2019-nCoV infection. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, includes:
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- avoid close contact with people who are sick
- stay home when you are sick
- cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
- clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
Q: What should I do if I had close contact with someone who has 2019-nCoV?
If you have had close contact with someone who is confirmed to have, or being evaluated for, 2019-nCoV infection, you should:
- monitor your health starting from the day you first had close contact with the person and continue for 14 days after you last had close contact with the person. Watch for these signs and symptoms:
- fever. Take your temperature twice a day
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- other early symptoms to watch for are chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, diarrhoea, nausea/vomiting, and runny nose
- if you develop fever or any of these symptoms, call your healthcare provider right away before going to your medical appointment, be sure to tell your healthcare provider about your close contact with someone who is confirmed to have, or being evaluated for, 2019-nCoV infection. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected. Ask your healthcare provider to call the health department or National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
- if you do not have any symptoms, you can continue with your daily activities, such as going to work, school, or other public areas
For Western Cape readers, the provincial health department has provided a detailed guide here, as well a public hotline for Western Cape residents: 0800 029 999