/ 6 March 2020

First SA corona patient, doctor, and family in quarantine

Zwelimkhize David Harrison
Zweli Mkhize. (David Harrison/M&G)

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize has given more details of South Africa’s first confirmed Covid-19 coronavirus patient.

The 38-year-old Durban man was confirmed as the country’s first case of the virus on Thursday morning after first visiting his private doctor earlier this week. 

The man had travelled to Italy as part of a group of 10 people and returned to South Africa on March 1. The European country is the world’s third-worst affected by the virus. 

Earlier on Thursday, Mkhize told MPs in Parliament that he had informed President Cyril Ramaphosa immediately after the case was confirmed.

Speaking to journalists late on Thursday, Mkhize said the health department had established that the unidentified Durban man had consulted his doctor three days after returning from his trip.  

“We wanted to make sure we get information out there in the interest of transparency. In this case the individual came from Italy. When he arrived he had no symptoms whatsoever. The symptoms developed three days after his return. The patient did not have much of a cough, but he was not feeling very comfortable. It was not severe symptoms and it could have been [mistakenly diagnosed as] an ordinary flu,” Mkhize said.

The health minister said the man would be quarantined on his own while his wife, two children and the doctor would also be isolated as a precaution.

“Arrangements have been made for the patient to be taken to the centre where he would be treated. We’ve designated hospitals for this. We are going to be dealing with members of the family and taking them to the necessary quarantine,” the minister said. 

On whether South Africa would be able to handle a mass outbreak of the virus, and whether there is enough protective clothing and masks available in the country, Mkhize said this was not a cause for concern. 

“With the whole world looking for that protective clothing, it’s possible we will run into some shortage. I don’t know what will happen quicker — us demanding those [protective clothing] or the manufacturing companies producing more. But we do have our stock. We’ve got enough stock to respond as necessary. But we will be upping the stock,” he said.

There were questions about whether an outbreak in South Africa could have a severe impact on the public health system as the country has one of the highest rates of HIV-infections in the world. 

But Professor Cheryl Cohen from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said there was no evidence to suggest that HIV-positive people are at higher risk if they became infected with Covid-19. 

“There’s no data whether HIV-infected individuals are more severely affected by Covid-19,” she said. “What we do know is that the more severe cases have been in elderly people and people with underlying illness. Based on what we know from other respiratory illnesses like influenza, people who are receiving antiretroviral treatment and who are stable on treatment, that treatment substantially reduces their risk of severe illness. So there’s no reason to suspect this will be different. But more data is needed.”