The Herald (South Africa)
Don’t panic — Mkhize
No restrictions ordered after Hilton dad confirmed as SA’s first coronavirus patient
South Africa has recorded its first coronavirus case, but it is way too soon to panic, the government says.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize announced yesterday that a man from Hilton, in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, who had travelled to Italy with his wife, had contracted Covid-19, but said the government was not enforcing any immediate restrictions or bans as a result.
The confirmation means that SA has become the seventh country in Africa to confirm a case of the deadly coronavirus that emerged in China late last year and has rapidly spread around the globe, wreaking economic havoc and battering financial markets.
While the latest developments were worrying, “we must not allow panic to set in”, Mkhize said in parliament yesterday during a debate on the epidemic.
Briefing reporters shortly afterwards, he was at pains to emphasise that SA had only one confirmed case and authorities were doing all they could to contain it.
Cheryl Cohen, head of the Centre for Respiratory Disease and Meningitis at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) also said there was no immediate risk of the coronavirus spreading in the general community.
People who had been in contact with the coronavirus patient were in self-quarantine at home, and medical staff were in daily contact to check their health status, Cohen said.
The NICD is managing SA’s response to the outbreak.
Covid-19 has infected more than 95,000 people and killed about 3,300 in more than 80 countries and territories since it broke out in Wuhan, China, in December.
Mkhize said a tracer team had been sent to KwaZulu-Natal to identify the patient’s contacts, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
“What we have learnt from China is that speed, decisiveness and acting in unison is important,” the minister said.
China imposed aggressive measures to try to contain the virus, placing Wuhan on lockdown, restricting travel and extending the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.
Its strategy appears to have borne fruit as the number of new cases reported in China has steadily dropped for the past fortnight.
Mkhize said the infected SA patient was being quarantined at his home outside Pietermaritzburg. He confirmed that the 38-year father of two was among a group of 10 people, who had travelled to Italy, which is at the centre of Europe’s outbreak with more than 3,000 cases and 107 dead.
The rapid spread of the virus in Italy has led to the closure of schools and the cancellation of sporting events, including next week’s Six Nations rugby game with England.
The SA group returned to the country on Sunday March 1 via OR Tambo International Airport and later travelled to Durban, Mkhize said.
The man visited his GP after complaining of fever, a headache, sore throat and a cough.
A swab taken tested positive for the virus. Mkhize said the man had been “self-isolating” since then.
“The couple also has two children. The Emergency Operating Centre has identified the contacts by interviewing the patient and doctor.
“The tracer team has been deployed to KwaZulu-Natal with epidemiologists and clinicians from the NICD.
“The doctor has been self-isolated as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, an upmarket residential estate north of Durban issued a statement yesterday notifying residents that one of their number had “come into contact with the person who had tested positive for the coronavirus”.
Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate residents were told that the individual was in contact with the NICD.
The estate said once tested and the results were known, it would report back.
It also emerged yesterday that a private school which is near the school attended by the children of the patient who tested positive had suspended outings to public areas, until further notice.
The school, which is known to TimesLIVE, said it took the decision after it had confirmed that the first positive case of the virus was in its vicinity.
“[The school] will take all necessary precautions, including no further outings to public/crowded places, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser, and the nursing sisters are up to date with all the signs and symptoms and will respond appropriately,” the school said in a statement.
It said while it remained open until further notice, it had also cancelled external sporting fixtures.
Two days after the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates in response to the growing threat of the outbreak, there was little sign of the global anxiety subsiding, with European stocks resuming their drop yesterday.
The rand, which rallied after the Fed cut on Tuesday, had dropped 1.6% by 5pm yesterday, set for its biggest loss against the dollar since January 31.
HSBC, one of the biggest banks in Europe, evacuated staff from part of its London headquarters after an employee tested positive, the Financial Times reported.
“The markets are on edge, with many questioning the ability of government to deal with a breakout in SA efficiently,” Bianca Botes, treasury partner at Peregrine Treasury Solutions, said.
Earlier this week, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the coronavirus could still be contained if countries moved quickly and aggressively to limit its spread.
About 3.4% of confirmed cases have proven fatal, significantly higher than the mortality rate for seasonal flu, which is less than 1%, he said.
“Covid-19 spreads less efficiently than flu; transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick; it causes more severe illness than flu; there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics; and it can be contained,” he said.
Egypt was the first African country to announce a coronavirus case, on February 14, and was swiftly followed by Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco.