South Africa on Thursday confirmed its first case of coronavirus, affecting a citizen who had passed through the main airport showing no symptoms on his way back from a trip to Italy.
The health ministry said the patient had been self-isolating in KwaZulu-Natal since Tuesday after consulting a doctor over symptoms of coughing, a sore throat, headaches and a fever.
The doctor has also self-quarantined.
Earlier the health ministry said the patient was a 38-year-old male who traveled to Italy with his wife, passed through the main O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg when they returned home and then went to the eastern region of KwaZulu-Natal. They were part of a group of 10 people and they arrived back in South Africa on March 1, 2020, it added.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told journalists that authorities would start a wider search for contacts of the patient.
Health officials said a “tracer team” had been deployed to the province together with epidemiologists and clinicians to further investigate the circumstances of the infection.
President Cyril Ramaphosa warned that the virus would hurt travel and tourism, and have a negative impact on South Africa’s already struggling economy, but urged citizens not to panic.
“We will keep informing South Africans openly and transparently about a number of steps we will be taking because this will turn out to be a national crisis,” the president said.
“It will have a huge impact on travel, and a negative impact also on our economy. It is already showing signs of having a negative impact on our tourism.”
South Africa’s rand currency weakened after news of the case, falling around 1.6 percent against the dollar as of 1500 GMT.
Since the outbreak began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, it has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 3,000, mostly in China.
Last week, President Ramaphosa ordered the repatriation of nearly 200 citizens from Wuhan, and Mkhize said those citizens will be returning home in the next few days.
South African Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirms the first case of Coronavirus in South Africa at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, March 5, 2020. Reuters/ Sumaya Hisham
He added that South Africa was working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and some African institutions to help diagnose the virus across the region.