Infectious Diseases

15 March 2020

Coronavirus in SA: President says first local transmission is concerning

President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed concern over SA's first local transmission of the coronavirus, as he warned that he expected the total number of positive cases to rise in the near future.

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday said he was worried about the first confirmed local transmission of coronavirus in the country.

In his address to the nation, the president also confirmed that total number of confirmed cases in the country were now at 61.

"Initially, it was people who had travelled out of the country, especially from Italy, who had positively tested for the virus.

"It is concerning that we are now dealing with internal transmission of the virus", he said.

President Ramaphosa also said that on the back of the number of cases rising to 61, the expectation is that the total is expected to rise in the coming days and weeks.

No country is immune

Addressing the nation, he referred to the situation as "a matter of great national importance".

"The world is facing a medical emergency far graver than what we have experienced in over a century," he said, as he started his speech.

"Given the scale and the speed at which the virus is spreading, it is now clear that no country is immune from the disease or will be spared its severe impact.

"Never before in the history of our democracy has our country been confronted with such a severe situation," he added.

Wits case awaiting NICD confirmation

In his address, the president also mentioned a Wits University student who had tested positive for the virus.

Earlier on Sunday, News24 reported the Department of Health as saying that the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) was conducting a "confirmatory test" on the specimen of a Wits University student who had tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.

On Sunday, the tertiary institution said the medical student had tested positive for the virus, despite not showing any symptoms of the virus.

The university’s senior executive made the announcement in an email circulated to staff and students on Sunday. 

The student had been in self-isolation since Wednesday – a precaution taken by the university while they waited on his test results.

The student was tested last week, and results came back positive on Sunday afternoon.

The department said the test had been conducted by a private laboratory.

Classes cancelled

"As previously announced by the Minister of Health, on receiving positive results from a private laboratory, the NICD will conduct a retest in order to confirm and validate the results before they are released," the statement read.

The department added that it would make a formal announcement once the NICD's results were available.

The Wits senior executive team said the student was "asymptomatic and attended classes last Monday and Tuesday, without knowledge that the student had contracted the virus".

The university's statement added that the institution had since taken an immediate decision to cancel all contact classes for the Graduate Medical Programme 1 (MMBBCh 3 classes). The programme will continue online.

The university has also instructed students in the programme to immediately go into self-isolation for 14 days.

"The Faculty is personally reaching out to each of the 350 students who could be affected. They will receive the full support of the Faculty, including the requisite monitoring and testing," the executive team said.

Dean of Students Jerome September would be making arrangements for students in residences who required self-isolation.

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