The number of novel Coronavirus cases in South Africa has risen to seven, after four more patients – all from the same group who recently returned from a ski holiday to Italy – were confirmed to be positive for the virus on Monday. (Ski slopes in the northern region of Italy have now been closed in one of the measures announced yesterday to prevent the further spread of the virus.)
The Department of Health has now embarked on a rigorous campaign of tracing every person the seven individuals have been in contact with since returning to South Africa, just over a week ago, on Sunday 1 March 2020.
Some of the identified patients, the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, told reporters, had shown symptoms, while others had not.
However, they have all either been placed on self-quarantine at home or have been admitted to hospital.
All the patients, with the exception of two in Gauteng, are from Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
The seven were part of a group of 10, who recently returned to South Africa from a skiing holiday in Milan, north of Italy, where they reportedly contracted the virus which has been rife in the area.
“They went as a group of 10 but only nine returned, while the other one travelled to the UK. In the process, of those nine, one took ill and showed symptoms. He was diagnosed last week,” said Mkhize, referring to South Africa’s coronavirus Patient Zero from Hilton.
On Sunday, the Minister announced that another member of the holiday party from Gauteng had tested positive. The third patient is the wife of the first patient.
“We [have indicated] that their conditions were healthy. The man, who was the first patient, is healthy, and we have left it to [his] doctor as to how the treatment will be, because she has indicated that the patient no longer has symptoms,” Mkhize said.
The rest of the group was quarantined soon after the first group member tested positive last week.
“Four of them have also now tested positive. One is a couple in KwaZulu-Natal Midlands – a 38-year-old male and female. They have been put on quarantine and have not yet been admitted to hospital. The lady had symptoms but the gentleman did not, but the results have come back positive,” said the Minister.
The third person is a 45-year-old male in Pietermaritzburg. Swabs were taken and results came back positive.
“He also had symptoms and therefore was also put on quarantine. He will also have to go for an assessment by a doctor and get admitted at that point,” said Mkhize.
Another 38-year-old male from Pietermaritzburg, who was also part of the Italian skiing party, has also tested positive.
“We don’t think that there’s an immediate risk to [their contacts] but we will find out when we test them. The fear of home quarantine is not necessary because it is advice you get given after you’ve been tested or [you are] on the list of contacts. We are not aware of anyone who was put on home quarantine, then proceeded to go gallivanting,” the Minister said.
He said the Department of Health was not taken aback by the results.
“We think that the kind of exposure that they had, it was enough to create an infection in one person, [so] it was most likely that the rest had that exposure,” he said.
Tracing contacts of South Africans with coronavirus
The Minister said the department was now focusing on tracking all contacts of the patients, including those who sat two seats ahead and behind them on the flight from overseas to South Africa, and the domestic flights they took to get home.
“We are on course to finding all [these people]. Many more contacts are being tested,” said Mkhize, adding that they will have a clearer picture in the next 48 hours.
The department has already tested 113 people, who had come in contact with the nine.
Meanwhile in Italy, the northern regions – including Milan – are closing all ski slopes.
Parts of Italy go into China-like anti-coronavirus lockdown
Taking its example from China, Italy announced yesterday that it has now effectively locked down a quarter of its residents (16 million people) until 3 April to help halt the new coronavirus from spreading across the European continent.
According to Sunday’s decree – the areas under lockdown include famous tourist destinations Milan and Venice, as well as the Veneto region.
Apart from closing down ski resorts, all cinemas in the northern region will also be closed, and restaurants are expected to keep diners at least one metre from each other.
The country’s new restrictions mean museums nationwide are being closed and no weddings are to be held in Italy until 3 April. Shopping malls are also impacted.
As of today (9 March), the WHO says Italy had recorded 7,375 corona virus cases with a death toll of 366.
Repatriation of South Africans from China, and handling visitors
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) met on Monday to discuss the outbreak.
Mkhize said among the issues discussed at the meeting was the evacuation of South Africans from the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan, China.
The programme, the Minister confirmed, is on course.
“We continue to expect the [Defence Force] members to move with the plan as agreed. Because of the fluid nature of some of the issues, these will be best reported on when everything has been completed.
“We are just happy with the update as we speak,” said Mkhize.
Another issue addressed in the NATJOINTS meeting was government’s approach to dealing with people coming from areas of high transmission.
“We’ve also had to look at issues around major conferences and sporting events.
“At the moment, we are having quite a number of consultations and discussions, and information that has to be shared with Ministers. As it stands, we don’t have any specific decision to announce at that level.
“Where necessary, [the relevant] Ministers will be the ones making the necessary statements, and where there’s consultation with the Presidency, we’ll communicate at that level.
“If we have to go to Cabinet, issues will be taken up at that level,” said Mkhize.
A number of stakeholder engagements in the hospitality and tourism industry will also be held.
Coronavirus vs Flu
Whilst many have pointed out that far more people die from seasonal flu than have died from the novel coronavirus, it is the percentage of people that most concerns the World Health Organisation (WHO). While seasonal flu kills about 0.1% of those who get it, the WHO says COVID-19 has so far killed an average 3.4% of the people who have caught it. (This percentage may be lower as some people appear to not display symptoms or realise they are ill.)
Sources: SAnews.gov.za, WHO and Time magazine