A Free State man who was reportedly the first South African to have contracted coronavirus without travelling outside the country has now tested negative.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday night that the man was tested at a private facility in the Free State. Mkhize said that because the man “did not fit the case definition”, the test was done again at the National Health Laboratory Service in Johannesburg. That test came back negative.
As a result, the number of South Africans who have tested positive for coronavirus is now 16.
“We can’t explain why some tests come out positive then later negative. We released the result of positive, we then did additional verification, which confirmed it was negative. It’s not a crisis, it happens every now and then. This particular patient is now negative after verification,” said Mkhize.
At the media conference, The Ranch, a four-star hotel near Polokwane, Limpopo, was identified as a quarantine point for South Africans being flown back from coronavirus-hit Wuhan.
Mkhize announced that the 145-bedroom facility, 25km south of Polokwane, was the quarantine point.
Mkhize said the location was chosen because they wanted the repatriated South Africans to “come to a place [where] they are comfortable”.
The Ranch was a place were they could be observed, but also where they could “sit, enjoy themselves, call home, relax and have no real challenge”.
“Except that they can't meet their families, there are no real restrictions,” he said.
However, he said they would remain in their rooms.
“They will stay in their rooms; that is where the quarantine will be taking place. They are not sick, no symptoms, no reported infections or any presence of the virus,” said Mkhize.
He added that The Ranch was chosen because there were no communities nearby. Also, the space available meant there were two lines of defence — one patrolled by the army, and one patrolled by the police.
“There is no chance anybody will be able to mix with the people. They are not criminals. They are not sick. They are not patients,” said Mkhize.
He added that generals were given specifications, including that the site was away from human habitation, and that it must be isolated. Families also needed to be housed together and not separated, he said.
“If anyone falls ill, they will be moved from here. Here, there will not be anyone who is either sick or shows any evidence of coronavirus,” he said.
In an interview with the Polokwane Review publication, The Ranch's general manager Paul Shearer confirmed that the establishment was identified as the quarantine proximity point.
“We will be a quarantine facility where the patients will be observed for 21 days,” he was quoted as saying. “The Ranch, however, is not a facility for infected patients. Those of which there is the slightest possibility of having contracted the virus, will be accommodated elsewhere.”
He also confirmed to News24 that: “The property will be used as a quarantine facility under the full direction and guidance of the local authorities.”
Attempts by TimesLIVE to contact the hotel over the phone and through their Facebook page were unsuccessful on Thursday.
A SowetanLIVE reporter, who was in the area, tweeted pictures and videos of the army and of police arriving at the venue ahead of the press briefing.
Government spokesperson Phumla Williams said that, originally, 180 requests for repatriation were received. But over time, and having made consideration of personal circumstances, some South Africans indicated their decision to rather stay on at their respective commitments in Wuhan.
She was quoted early this week saying: “The flight will leave Wuhan City in the early hours of the morning and land back in SA on March 13.”
Meanwhile, Mkhize also responded to reports that, over the past two weeks, there were students who came to Limpopo — and several other provinces — from China.
“There’s been a lot of speculation about the status of these students. We knew that they were not at risk; however, with mounting speculation, we felt it was important to take necessary precautions just to make sure this matter is put to bed. It was all agreed that these students must be called and we do the tests.
“There were 14 students tested from Limpopo, two days ago. They have all tested negative. They do not have an infection. We want to put the issue behind us,” said Mkhize.