SA's first Covid-19 patient ready to go home, says Mkhize

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize
Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize
Ihsaan Haffejee

South Africa's first Covid-19 patient is well enough to go home but needs the official all-clear, said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize at a meeting to assuage residents in KwaZulu-Natal where the virus was first detected.

Mkhize said he spoke to the man on Sunday, adding that the nurse treating him said he had recovered and was only waiting for the official all-clear to go home. 

"I called the gent: 'Ey sir, how are you?' he said. The man replied: "Ey, I'm OK … I'm better now'," he added.

Mkhize said, according to the man, the first inkling that something was up was when the police started closing restaurants and imposed a curfew in the Italian resort town where he and his wife were on a skiing trip.

In a live broadcast on eNCA from a community meeting in Pietermaritzburg, which is near the first, and third patients' home in Hilton, Mkhize said people near the ski resort were being told not to walk around at night to reduce contact between people. 

The couple was on holiday in a group of 10 and flew home via Dubai to King Shaka International Airport. 

When the man started feeling fluey last week, he went to his doctor, and she arranged for a test for Covid-19, which the health department confirmed as positive. 

The doctor closed her practice straight away to avoid infecting others and is at home waiting out the period for when she too gets the all-clear. 

The other nine people in the group were also tested after epidemiologists interviewed the Hilton man, and since Thursday's announcement of South Africa's first patient, one person in the group in Gauteng and the man's wife have also tested positive. 

READ | Third novel coronavirus case in SA confirmed

Their children tested negative, but their school was closed on Friday as a precaution and, they will remain in self-quarantine until their parents test negative. 

Mkhize said people were treating the virus as "some gorilla that will eat us", but it had become clear that only around 15% of people diagnosed with it, would become seriously ill.

He added around 5% diagnosed with the virus would require intensive medical support such as a ventilator.

With no vaccination or cure, recovery depends on supportive care such as making people comfortable while the fever is reduced until the body is strong enough to face the virus and overcome it. 

Most people will have shed the virus within 14 days. 

So far, it is not mutating, and will not return as something the body does not recognise.

ALSO READ | Coronavirus: All the fuss is irritating, says doctor who diagnosed first SA case

Mkhize sees Covid-19 as becoming part of the common cluster of viruses, such as the rotavirus, but because it has jumped from animals to humans and immunity is still being built up, people are scared. 

None of the South African students, teachers or traders in China have tested positive, and some who originally wanted to return to South Africa have opted to stay in China as they realise it has hit other countries as well.

Mkhize said there were now more new cases outside China because it had reduced the spread. 

The virus has infected 107 000 people worldwide.

Mkhize said if somebody was treated and had recovered, he or she could go back to work and not infect colleagues sitting next to them.

He reiterated the importance of washing hands, covering mouths when coughing and sneezing.

He reminded people who "slash and dash" when going to the loo quickly to also wash their hands. 

"You see many people." he said, breaking into a jaunty whistle and adding some levity. "They walk out there, whistling way, they didn't wash their hands."

The department of health has increased available hospital beds in KwaZulu-Natal in case more people test positive and require hospital treatment. 

Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said extra beds were being set aside in case there were more cases. 

Mkhize said it was just a matter of time before another infection was detected in South Africa.

"All the countries will have this virus as part of their daily lives," he added. 

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