South Africa’s health authorities are going all out to contain the spread of the coronavirus after the first case on home soil was confirmed on Thursday.
South Africa is now in the containment stage of the epidemic, which has infected about 95,000 people worldwide – 80,000 of them in China. This means trying to stop the spread of the infection.
The first case is a 38-year-old KwaZulu-Natal father of two who tested positive three days after returning home from a trip to Italy on 1 March. He is being treated in a designated hospital in the province, while his wife and children are in self-quarantine at home.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and experts from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) gave a briefing at Parliament on Thursday.
Mkhize said it was important to keep calm and act on factual information only.
“People should not spread fake news, unverified news or gossip because that’s really causing a lot of unnecessary panic,” he said.
He said health authorities were moving to contain the spread of infection.
“Our emergency operations centre is going to start working now 24 hours – we expect people to be able to call at any time of the day or night,” Mkhize said.
Meanwhile, the NICD urged South Africans to get flu shots after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed.
That’s not because it will reduce chances of catching coronavirus, but rather it would mitigate the risk that seasonal flu will be confused with the virus. COVID-19 presents with similar symptoms to flu.
Experts said the risk to the general community acquiring COVID-19 remained low.
The NICD urges South Africans to practice frequent correct hand washing, cough hygiene, staying at home when ill and keeping distance away from sick people.
The focus is on the KZN man who tested positive, his family and people he was in contact with.
Mkhize said: “We are also going to be calling people all over to be able to create a comprehensive list of those that need to be observed, to be tested and to be taken into quarantine,” he said.
People who encountered the KZN man who got infected with coronavirus would have to go into self-quarantine.
This would be for a minimum of 14 days during which medical teams will check them for symptoms and test them for the virus if needed.
The NICD’s Kerrigan McCarthy explained the process: “Self-quarantine would mean maintaining an adequate and safe social distance from family members. The World Health Organisation recommends that a person stays outside the radius of 1 metre from other family members, do not share a bed, if possible sleep in a separate room, and at the first sign of symptoms seek healthcare.”