The Health Department has confirmed that the first person to be diagnosed with the coronavirus in South Africa is a 38-year-old man who had travelled to Italy with his wife. The identity of the couple, who have two children, has not been made public.
According to the Health ministry, the couple, who are from KwaZulu-Natal, returned home on March 1 and the husband consulted a doctor on March 3 after presenting flu-like symptoms, including headache, fever and a cough. He tested positive for COVID-19 and has been self-isolating since then, the ministry said. The doctor has also been in isolation since March 3.
The ministry said that the Emergency Operating Centre (EOC) was tracing anyone who had come into contact with the doctor and the patient and that a tracer team was deployed to the province. An epidemiologist and NCID clinicians are included in the group.
News of the first local coronavirus case comes as the country readies to receive more than 100 citizens who are returning from China.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) facilitating the repatriation of South African citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan – the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak – said on Thursday it had secured an aircraft for the evacuation.
“The aircraft with the capacity to bring back the citizens in Wuhan has been secured. An interdisciplinary team of relevant departments including health, home affairs, social development and the defence will form part of the repatriation team from China to South Africa,” government spokesperson Phumla Williams said in a statement.
“They will be working with the Chinese authorities to screen the group of South Africans before they depart the epicenter of Wuhan. With the support of the South African embassy in China, a ground transport plan is being put in place to ensure that all citizens who are to be evacuated are safely brought to a central collection point from where they will [be] transported home.”