Zweli Mkhize. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Zweli Mkhize. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

The 122 SA citizens who are to be repatriated from Wuhan, China, are to be quarantined in a hotel near Polokwane, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Thursday evening.

They are due to land in SA this weekend and will be quarantined for 14 days at the The Ranch Protea Hotel after leaving Wuhan. They were all well, and had tested negative for coronavirus, Mkhize said. Wuhan lies at the epicentre of China's outbreak.  

Concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus in SA grew on Thursday, after the health minister announced in the morning that SA’s infection total had climbed to 17, including SA’s first case of local transmission.

Mkhize subsequently announced that this case — a man in Free State —  had been retested and found to be negative, taking the number down to 16. The man’s initial test results had been conducted by a private laboratory, he said. The second tests were done by the National Health Laboratory Service.  

“We will make sure this kind of lapse does not happen again,” he said, adding that a meeting was slated for Saturday to iron out testing issues with private laboratories. He also apologised for linking the case of the Free State man, who had not travelled outside SA, to a Chinese businessperson.

Thursday saw a private school in Cape Town close its doors, Capitec bank shut a small rural branch, and Absa Bank asked staff from its head office to self-isolate, as fears grew over possible contact with people who had contracted the contagious virus.

Capitec said later in the day that tests had come back negative for the person concerned, while Cape Town’s United Herzlia Schools expects results on Friday afternoon for a parent who has been in contact with a confirmed case. Absa is also awaiting test results. Several private schools have temporarily closed over coronavirus fears in the past week, including Cowan House in Pietermaritzburg and Grayston Preparatory School in Johannesburg.

The rapid spread of the virus in the three months since it emerged in China has battered financial markets and disrupted global trade and travel, as countries take drastic measures to try to slow its march. The World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic on Wednesday, saying it was alarmed by the speed and scale of transmission, and the inaction of some countries.

“Despite our frequent warnings, we are deeply concerned that countries are not approaching this threat with the level of political commitment needed to control it,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement issued on Thursday.

More than 127,863 cases have been confirmed in 116 countries, with 4,718 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

“This is a controllable pandemic. All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, preventing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights,” he said, urging countries to do all they could to slow transmission of the disease, to minimise the shock to their health systems.

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

kahnt@businesslive.co.za