Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/BERND THISSEN
Picture: GALLO IMAGES/AFP/BERND THISSEN

UPDATE: Health Minister Zweli Mkhize subsequently announced that SA’s apparent first case of local transmission was a false positive. The man had been re-tested and was negative, taking SA’s tally down to 16, he said at a media briefing on Thursday evening.  

SA has confirmed its first case of local transmission of the novel coronavirus, a 32-year old man from Free State who came into contact with a Chinese businessperson, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Thursday.

A further three cases have been confirmed, taking SA’s total to 17, he said. These cases are:

• A 38-year-old man from Durban, who had visited the UK and returned to SA on March 7;

• A 27-year-old woman from Mpumalanga, who had travelled to the US and returned to SA on March  7; and

• A 43-year-old man from Johannesburg, who had travelled to New York via Dubai and returned to SA on March 8.

“Our tracing teams are now making a list and have started contacting individuals that have been identified as these patients contacts,” said the minister.

The highly infectious coronavirus, which causes a potentially deadly respiratory disease called Covid-19, has rapidly spread around the world, disrupting global trade and travel, and battering stock markets. By Thursday it had sickened more than 126,000 people, and killed more than 4,640 in 116 countries and territories, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

The interministerial committee dealing with coronavirus is planning to hold a press briefing later on Thursday, said the minister.

On Wednesday the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic, and US President Donald Trump announced sweeping travel restrictions on Europe in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

Minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu said the government will hold a special cabinet meeting on Covid-19 on Sunday.

“Cabinet reassures all in SA that every precaution is being taken to safeguard the country against any surge of Covid-19,” he said during a media briefing on Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.

Mthembu appealed to the public to respect the privacy of the people confirmed to have Covid-19, and cautioned against spreading inaccurate information.

The government’s mission to repatriate SA citizens from Wuhan is due to return to SA on Friday, he said. On their return, the entire group, including airline crew, will be quarantined for between 14 and 21 days.

“During this period, the movement of people and goods in and out of the quarantine zone will be restricted,” he said.

Once the quarantine period has ended and they have tested negative for the coronavirus, they will return to their communities, he said.

Mthembu said concerned members of the public could call the toll-free national coronavirus hotline (0800 029 999) with their queries.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za