Coronavirus in Western Cape: Do not panic, says Mbombo

Nurses in the isolation unit at Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape on March 11, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Nurses in the isolation unit at Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape on March 11, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Gallo Images/Misha Jordaan

"Relax - we've got this!" said Western Cape health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo, who cut a cool figure after the province's first positive case of the coronavirus was announced on Wednesday, bringing the total nationwide to 13.

The 36-year-old Capetonian man is in self-isolation after the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirmed on Wednesday that he tested positive after a trip to Europe.

Speaking outside the Tygerberg Hospital, which has an isolation unit with three people already admitted and waiting for the results of their tests, Mbombo said the patient will most likely not be the last to test positive for the virus first identified in China in 2019. 

"Do we expect more cases? Of course. It is obvious," said Mbombo.

She was addressing media after the Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, said on Wednesday that six more people had tested positive for the virus.

The media was due to go on a tour of the isolation unit at Tygerberg Hospital when Premier Alan Winde announced the first case in the province. 

"A short while ago the national Minister of Health [Zweli Mkhize] informed us that we have the first coronavirus confirmed case for the Western Cape," Winde said. 

Covid-19, Tygerberg

Staff in the isolation unit at the Tygerberg Hosptial. (Jenni Evans/News24)

The patient in the Western Cape

The Western Cape man arrived back in South Africa on 9 March after visiting multiple countries, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Turkey. 

It is still being established who he has come in contact with, and those people are being tracked down.

The four new cases in Gauteng include: a 33-year-old woman who was in Italy and returned on 1 March; a 34-year-old man and a 33-year-old woman who travelled as a couple to Germany and returned to South Africa on 9 March; a 57-year-old man who went to Austria and Italy and also returned to South Africa on 9 March.

'We've got this'

Mbombo said the province had already coped successfully with measles outbreaks and H1N1, and South Africa had established a good protocol in tracking down people who were in contact with an infected patient through its vast experience in managing tuberculosis cases.

"We've got it, it's what we do," she said.

She said she was not playing down the gravity of the situation, but did not want people to panic.

READ | How people are helping people infected with coronavirus

"If somebody walks into a hospital with coronavirus, not everybody is going to get coronavirus. You have to spit on a person. You have to cough on a person."

Winde said the man infected with coronavirus had arrived back in South Africa on 9 March and was tested at a private facility because he felt sick.

He is self-isolating at home, and being trusted to follow all the instructions of the doctors, instead of going to hospital.

Dr Jantjie Taljaard, an infectious diseases physician at Tygerberg, said people who tested positive were given a full run-down of instructions, and were also shown a video before they go into "self-isolation". 


People are offered hand sanitiser at Tygerberg Hospital. (Jenni Evans/News24)

The hospital

During the media isolation unit site tour, hand sanitiser was repeatedly spritzed on the hands of people passing through doorways into the wings and sections of entrance five of the hospital.

The unit is near the main entrance to the hospital, with large blue stickers pointing the way for people who need to be admitted, and security guards knowing where to direct people.

However, Winde urged people to not all rush to hospital, or try to get a Covid-19 test.

If they felt they were at risk due to international travel or contact with someone who had travelled internationally, and had flu-like symptoms, they should call the national hotline on 0800 029 999.

He said that anybody feeling unwell should stay at home, which he added was expected of anybody feeling unwell, regardless of the illness.

The hotline goes through a check list to determine whether a swab is needed, and further instructions are given.

The province has also activated a Joint Operations Centre for a coordinated response and, on Friday, Winde will hold a special meeting with all of the province's MECs to receive a report back on their work.

Asked whether the province had enough money to deal with it, he said that was not an issue at present, and if it did become an issue, Cabinet would be approached. 


He reiterated the importance of washing hands, coughing or sneezing into a tissue or the corner of your arm, and to also not spread fake news about Covid-19. 

Winde said plans were also afoot to make sure that there was enough water coming from taps to wash hands after the water-saving adjustments that were made during the drought in the province.

In some public buildings, not all taps have running water.

The unit itself was ready for more people to be isolated and, during Wednesday's visit, the door leading to those in self-isolation was firmly shut, with two medical staff standing at the door waving to show what people had to wear. 

Dressed in head coverings, a mask, eye coverings, a plastic apron and gloves, the two put up with endless photographs being taken of them demonstrating their worst-case-scenario gear.

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