WHO South Africa set up emergency Coronavirus operation centres
Photo Credit: CDC

The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has confirmed the first case of Coronavirus in South Africa on Thursday afternoon.


South Africa (5 March 2020) – The Minister took to Twitter to make the announcement just moments before a Parliamentary debate on South Africa’s readiness to deal with Coronavirus (COVD-19).

“This morning, Thursday, March 5, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirmed that a suspected case of COVID-19 has tested positive.

“The patient is a 38-year-old male, who travelled to Italy with his wife. They were part of a group of 10 people and they arrived back in South Africa on 1 March 2020,” tweeted the Minister on his official account.

According to the Minster, the patient consulted a private general practitioner on 3 March with symptoms of fever, headache, malaise, a sore throat and a cough. The practice nurse took swabs and delivered it to the lab. The patient has been self-isolating since 3 March. The couple also has two children.

“The tracer team has been deployed to KwaZulu-Natal with epidemiologists and clinicians from NICD. The doctor has been self-isolating as well.

“The Emergency Operating Centre (EOC) has identified the contacts by interviewing the patient and doctor,” said Mkhize.

Following the Parliamentary debate, the Minister will hold a media briefing to ensure that the public is immediately kept abreast.

“A press briefing will be held later after the parliamentary debate this evening to shed more light on this issue,” said Mkhize

Meanwhile, earlier in the year, the Health Department activated an emergency operations centre to deal with the global outbreak of the Coronavirus.

“The emergency centre was activated on the 31 January 2020 and is now currently operational. We are busy building up the staff numbers but from last night, activities have started,” said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize as he detailed the country’s response to the outbreak on Friday.

This follows the declaration by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the Coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The declaration comes in the wake of over 3,000 people losing their lives to the virus that was first identified in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China.

“The Coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning it is transmitted between animals and people. Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. There is no specific antiviral treatment of the virus. Treatment remains supportive and there is no vaccine for the virus.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) first became aware of the respiratory disease of unknown cause on 31 December 2019. On 7 January 2020, a positive pathogen was identified which is known as the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

The total number of confirmed cases currently stands at 96,782 as of Thursday morning. The death toll is now at 3,308.

Activation of the operations centre on South African shores means that there are dedicated staff working exclusively on the Coronavirus. In addition to the operations centre, the department announced the following hospitals as centres for isolation and treatment of people infected with Coronavirus:

  • Polokwane Hospital in Limpopo
  • Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mpumalanga
  • Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Steve Biko Hospital and Tembisa Hospitals in Gauteng
  • Grace Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal
  • Klerksdorp Hospital in the North West
  • Kimberly Hospital in the Northern Cape
  • Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State
  • Livingstone Hospital in the Eastern Cape
  • Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape

These centres have been chosen for their ability to isolate, manage, contain and conduct research on suspected or confirmed cases of Coronavirus but this by no means suggests that other facilities do not have the ability to manage a suspected case that presents for the first time. It is simply a mechanism to ensure that we can centralise coordination and data collection.

“Every hospital should be able to manage it and then move them on to where we treat them centrally,” said the Minister.

Mkhize said the 24-hotline set up at the NICD to field questions from clinicians on the outbreak has also experienced high call volumes – demonstrating a high vigilance among healthcare workers.

“You will understand that when you have a situation of this nature even ordinary flu is treated with suspicion. We actually expect that just out of vigilance the number of people calling will increase. We believe that it is better to always over suspect than under diagnose,” he said.

SA beefs up surveillance at ports

Apart from digital thermal screeners, port health officials have also been provided with additional handheld thermometers to detect the temperature of any traveller arriving into the country.

The Health Department has also requested support from the South African Military Health Services to boost manpower at the various ports of entry where additional support is needed.

Sources: SA Government 
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