South Africans should not panic but rather be alert. That is the advice from President Cyril Ramaphosa following the announcement of the first case of the Coronavirus in the country.
The President has assured that government is and will continue to demonstrate urgency and caution as the country deals with its first confirmed case of Coronavirus.
The President on Thursday held an impromptu briefing shortly after landing at the Waterkloof Airforce Base in Pretoria.
The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, had earlier announced the first case of Coronavirus (COVID-19) just moments before a Parliamentary debate on South Africa’s readiness to deal with the virus.
On Thursday morning, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) had contacted the Minister after confirmation that a suspected case of COVID-19 had 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.
The Minister then got in touch with the President, informing him of the news.
“I informed him [Minister Mkhize] that he should go ahead and make the news public in Parliament so that South Africans are immediately informed, so as to avoid fake news spreading around the country, and also to have a level of transparency,” said the President.
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.
A tracer team has been deployed to KwaZulu-Natal with epidemiologists and clinicians from the NICD. The doctor, who handled the patient, has been self-isolating as well.
The Emergency Operating Centre (EOC) has identified those who came into contact with the patient by interviewing the patient and doctor.
The NICD explains that in the instance of a traveller, people who are most at risk are the close contacts of the patients. The NICD has a definition of what constitutes a close contact. These people will be required to self-quarantine in their homes for 14 days. They will be monitored by the NICD medical staff to make sure that if they get any symptoms, they are rapidly tested.
The President said the immediacy with which the case is being dealt with shows that South Africa is ready to deal with the Coronavirus.
“We are in constant contact with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and we also have South Africans who are working at the WHO, constantly keep us up to date about this virus.
“We will keep informing South Africans very openly and transparently about the number of steps that we will be taking,” he said.
President Ramaphosa appealed for calm as news of the virus spreads.
“South Africans should not panic. We should be alert, so that if people show signs of some of the symptoms, they immediately are able to get medical assistance from all our medical care people – whether in the private or public sector,” said the President.
South Africa now joins Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, Algeria as the African countries affected by the virus.
Plans are already afoot for the repatriation of South Africans from Wuhan City, Hubei province – the epicentre of the Coronavirus.
With the impact of the virus being felt globally, the President reiterated that South Africans must brace themselves.
“It will have a huge impact on a number of things like travel. It will have a negative impact on the economy, which as we all know is in a precarious [state],” said President Ramaphosa.
What is being done?
The Department of Health has activated an emergency operations centre to deal with Coronavirus.
There is dedicated staff working exclusively on Coronavirus. Provinces have also activated outbreak response teams.
Hospitals in all provinces have been equipped and are prepared to receive potential Coronavirus cases. These hospitals have been identified as centres for isolation and treatment.
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
Reduce your risk
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, include:
- Washing 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. Cough etiquette involves maintaining distance, covering coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing and washing hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Take action if you had close contact with someone confirmed to have been evaluated for the virus.
- Monitor your health starting from the day you first had close contact with the person and continue for 14 days after.
- Watch for signs and symptoms such as fever, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Other early symptoms are chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, diarrhoea, nausea/vomiting, and runny nose.
- If you develop fever or any of these symptoms, immediately call your healthcare provider.
- Before going to your medical appointment, tell your healthcare provider about your close contact with someone who is confirmed to have the Coronavirus.
- This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected as well as alert the Health Department or National Institute for Communicable Diseases.