Picture: 123RF/LIGHTWISE
Picture: 123RF/LIGHTWISE

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has risen to 202, with the Free State recording its first case, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Friday.

These are 52 cases over and above the 150 announced on Thursday.

Mkhize said the Free State had recorded seven cases. The minister was in the province meeting the provincial legislature and medical professionals, among others.

Five of the infections in the province originated from a church gathering of 200-300 people. The minister said of the five, two had come from Texas in the US, two from Israel and one from France.

The group developed symptoms, went to a doctor and were quarantined in the B&B where they were staying, until their test results came back, which were positive.

Mkhize said contact tracing had started to find members of the church to evaluate them in terms of their risk profile.

Because of the high number of church members the tracing team needed to be reinforced and the SA Red Cross is providing support. The government is dispatching mobile laboratories to the area and should be able to test 600 people on Friday, Mkhize said.

The sixth person infected in the province was someone who travelled to Italy and the seven is a mother of two, who is a health worker with no history of international travel, he said.

The women worked in a number of private hospitals and her children, who are in Grade one and two, have developed symptoms and have been taken into quarantine while they await test results.

Mkhize met parents and teachers at Brandwag Primary School on Friday morning. It has about 700 pupils who, along with teachers, are being screened.

While the number of cases of Covid-19 in SA is relatively small compared with many hard-hit countries, the rapid rise in the numbers since the first case was announced on March 5 prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to declare a national disaster on Sunday. He ordered the closure of schools and imposed the most stringent restrictions on travel and mass gatherings yet seen on the continent.

Covid-19 has raced around the world since it emerged in China late in 2019, battering financial markets, disrupting trade and travel, and prompting a growing number of countries to impose increasingly tight restrictions to try to slow transmission.

By Thursday, it had sickened more than 245,000 people, with more than 86,000 of those recovered, in 163 countries and regions. Italy has been the hardest hit after China, with more than 41,000 cases and more than 3,400 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus resource centre.

Mkhize reiterated the call for South Africans to follow all precautions to help flatten the curve and slow down the rise in the virus.

We have to understand that the virus  ... is going to be with us for quite a while, it is going to be one of those virus that our body has to build immunity to fight,” he said.

The minister said according to scientists’ estimations they indicate that the nature of the viral infection means that ultimately 60% of the population will be affected at some point, but that not everyone will have serious cases.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za