Provinces now allowed to test for suspected cases

The government has transferred the testing for coronavirus to provinces as the number of people who tested positive for the pandemic in SA increased to 16 yesterday.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize announced the decision last night in Polokwane, Limpopo, at the quarantine site of more than 100 South Africans who will be repatriated from Wuhan in China.

Mkhize confirmed the number of new COVID-19 infections detected had increased by three new cases by yesterday with one reported in Mpumalanga, one in KwaZulu-Natal and one in Gauteng.

The minister clarified that the Free State man who had previously tested positive for COVID-19 was in fact not infected with the coronavirus. He said the man had initially been tested at a private laboratory but after verification he tested negative.

Mkhize said provinces would be allowed to do their own tests but the National Health Laboratory Service would still need to verify coronavirus cases along with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in order to avoid confusion caused by the misdiagnosis in the Free State which has now been withdrawn. Mkhize dispelled some myths and fake news like that the virus looks at skin pigmentation. "Coronavirus doesn't look at your passport, nationality, whether you are rich or poor."

He said government will now rope in private laboratories to conduct coronavirus tests. "The approach is, for the results to be finalised, whether the individual would have done them at a private hospital, at a private laboratory or public, it has to be verified through the National Health Laboratory Service and NICD and therefore we will in future make sure that these kinds of lapses don't happen again."

Mkhize also confirmed that The Ranch Resort in Limpopo will be the quarantine site where 122 South Africans repatriated from the coronavirus epicentre in Wuhan, China, would be kept in isolation for at least 14 days.

He said they had chosen the resort as it was isolated and unlike the other 84 sites they visited, had a landing strip that would accommodate the size of the aircraft. By last night, the police and the military had taken over the four-star resort which is about 25km from Polokwane and blockaded the road leading to it.

Staff at the hotel have been placed on leave for the next 21 days while patrons who were booked in at the hotel were told to vacate it.

"We were told that if we fail to come today [to fetch belongings], we will have to come back after 21 days. I can't stay here for those days, I have children to look after," said a staff member.

The ANC Youth League in the province said it was worried about the decision and had planned to hold a protest around the area.

Mkhize said access to the hotel would be strictly prohibited to the public by the military.

He said South Africans who will be kept at the site were not sick and would be quarantined only as a matter of precaution. The minister said if any of them showed signs of being sick they would be immediately removed from the resort.

"We want to confirm again that they are not sick, they have no symptoms, that they are also negative on coronavirus. There is no reported infection or any presence of the virus. So when we bring them here, it's a statutory provision for us to allow the 14 days since the removal from the source of the infection.

"Here will not stay anyone who is either sick or has got any evidence of the presence of coronavirus. People who are going to be here are just under observation."

He said they would be under a 24-hour guard in order to make sure that they do not mix in big groups. "The quarantine would be about people being here, they would be asked not to mix in big groups and they must also wear masks ... if they are going to public places they will be given all the necessary protective clothes, they will be able to move around," he said.

Limpopo premier Stanley Mathabatha said they had started allaying fears of locals who were against the province being picked as quarantine area.

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