Image: Internet / To illustrate
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has announced that South Africa now has 202 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus.
The province with the largest number of new cases is Gauteng, at 33. The Western Cape had the second-highest number of new infections with 11 confirmed cases. KwaZulu-Natal recorded one new case.
The Free State has recorded its first infections – there are now seven cases of COVID-19 in the province.
Mkhize made the announcement on Friday morning after a meeting with the Free State provincial government following the detection of a number of local transmissions.
Local transmission spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.
“Of the first five people that were reported, two of them are people who came from Texas, USA, another two came from Israel and another one came from France and they came here around the 9th to the 11th of March 2020, they came to a church conference,” explained the Minister.
While at the conference one of them developed symptoms and consulted a doctor.
Upon a positive test confirmation, four others were tested and all five were found to be positive.
At the time of their visit, the group of five resided at a bed and breakfast in the province. The group of five – and the staff at the establishment – were placed in quarantine.
At the conference, the group of five were joined by other churchgoers who displayed no symptoms. They have since left for Madagascar.
Rush to trace contacts
In a bid to beef up the tracing of contacts, the Health Minister announced that the department has called on the SA Red Cross to assist.
The provincial SA Red Cross, with about 285 volunteers, has immediately started the mapping of affected people.
A senior expert from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has also been dispatched to the province and is expected to arrive on Friday.
A mobile testing unit has been sent to help screen 600 people.
“We have set this weekend as a target to rush and get as many of those members of the church so that we are able to start the process of screening them, testing them and quarantining to prevent the further spread,” said Mkhize.
The Minister appealed to other members of the church to identify each other.
“We can’t treat it like what has been happening in their areas, most of the areas it is one individual and a set of contacts who are dispersed in different towns. Here we are dealing with a concentrated set of contacts,” he said.
Due to the easy spread of the disease, through droplets of infected persons and surfaces, Mkhize emphasised the importance of social distancing and intensified hygiene.
The Minister explained that while deaths may be low, it was important to limit the spread to protect the health system.
“Numbers must not rise so rapidly that it will overwhelm our health system. They must rise slowly so that we can cope with those that need to be treated.
“In the experience, we have seen from other countries, 75% of the spread happens within family settings,” he said.
But in some instances, Mkhize said, large crowded gatherings are the perfect setting for the virus to spread. He used the church in South Korea and the Diamond Princess as examples.