Staff at patient’s company sent home and school his children attend closes.
Uncertainty and fear began to grip the country yesterday following the identification of South Africa’s first coronavirus case, with the man’s employer sending all staff to work from home until the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) advises otherwise.
The NICD said yesterday “we have tested 200 persons, of whom 144 were PUI [persons under investigation], and one tested positive.
“The positive case continues to be isolated and containment measures are ongoing.
“The risk to the general community of acquiring #CoronavirusInSA remains low.”
Despite that assurance, many shops selling face masks ran out of stock, as did a number of outlets supplying hand sanitisers.
The University of Pretoria announced it would temporarily disable its biometric identification systems, which identify students from fingers or thumbs placed on a scanner, for fear of the virus spreading.
The Covid-19 virus is primarily spread by physical contact between people and from contaminated surfaces, as it can live for some time out of the body of its host.
The company that employs SA’s first patient, which has interests in sugar, timber, mining and transport, said it had closed its offices because the man had reported for duty once.
So far, the company said, “nobody has been infected by the disease”.
Both the patient and the company’s identity is known to Saturday Citizen, but they are being kept confidential to protect them. The NICD this week said the patient was a 38-year-old man who had travelled with his wife and others to Italy, returning on 1 March.
He consulted a private general practitioner on 3 March after feeling “uncomfortable” with symptoms of fever, headache, malaise, a sore throat and a cough.
More than 300 people have been tested for coronavirus, while another 18, who were in contact with the only positively diagnosed South African, have been quarantined, said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize yesterday.
The patient was “coping well and feeling better compared to the day he came to the office”, his company director said.
“He is in isolation to avoid the spread of the disease. The NICD are evaluating our staff and his family. Staff reacted professionally to the news and wish him and his family well,” the company said.
Institutions of learning in KwaZulu-Natal have taken measures to deal with the threat of the disease, with Cowan House, the school the man’s children attend, having closed.
Meanwhile, Hilton College headmaster George Harris told parents that the man with coronavirus had been treated at a doctor’s rooms in Hilton and that a schoolboy was treated at the same medical practice.
“A medical professional has provided assurance that there is no risk of this boy contracting or transmitting the coronavirus.”
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) denied a report that its personnel were refusing to take part in a mission to airlift South Africans back home from Wuhan in China, the epicentre of the pandemic.
SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said: “It is not true at all that our military crew are refusing to be part of this mission.
“The SANDF has been in the forefront of planning for the mission to China. Our soldiers have played a crucial role in peace-keeping missions in Africa.
“They have been to ebola-affected countries – these were worse situations than the coronavirus.
“The report is worrying and only seeks to create confusion.”
Describing the report as “absolute nonsense”, SA National
Defence Union national secretary Pikkie Greeff said: “Nobody refused to go to China on a rescue mission to bring South Africans back home. If that was true, it would be a criminal offence. None of the soldiers, some of whom are members of the SA National Defence Union, have ever indicated this decision to me.”
Dr Jackie Cilliers, head of African Futures and Innovation at the Institute for Security Studies, said he would consider it “a mutiny” if any military personnel refused to carry out an order “to assist the country and its people during difficult times”.
“When you join the SANDF, you swear to put your life in danger for the security of your country and this includes taking part in military operations such as peace-keeping and rescue missions. In instances where soldiers refuse a legal order, they can expect to be court-marshalled.”