Coronavirus: what we know so far and what to do if you have the symptoms

Test tube with Corona virus name label is seen in this illustration taken on January 29 2020.
Test tube with Corona virus name label is seen in this illustration taken on January 29 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Up until yesterday, South Africans heard about the spread of the coronavirus but it seemed far removed – we could feel safe with the knowledge that it isn’t directly affecting us – yet. But, that all changed when the first case of the virus in the country was confirmed .

That said, South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases has urged South Africans to keep calm and avoid panic. To make this easier on you – we have rounded up what we know so far.

Who has been infected?

The first victim of coronavirus in South Africa is a 38-year-old man who travelled back into the country on 1 March after visiting Italy with his family. He flew into OR Tambo International and then flew to Durban on the same day. He did not show any signs of infection upon arrival and only developed symptoms three days after returning to South Africa.  He is currently believed to be in self-isolation at his home in Hilton, near Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal.

What is being done?

Tracer teams are at work in KwaZulu-Natal in order to track down any persons the man may have been in contact with. Direct relations such as family will be placed in quarantine and other contacts will be checked to see if they show any symptoms. People who were in contact with the man have subsequently isolated themselves.

The school that the man’s children attend, Cowan House Preparatory School in Hilton, was closed on Friday morning following the news. The Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize, will be meeting with the school’s board and management today. The Minister has also confirmed that other schools will not be closed down yet on the basis of this one case.

Moving forward

In a press conference the Minister made on Thursday, he said big upcoming gatherings, especially over Easter, will have to be reconsidered and the government will consult with sporting bodies and churches.

The NICD has shared a toll-free coronavirus hotline number: 0800 029 999. This number is open to the public and meant to be operated 24/7. While there were reports of people struggling to get through on Thursday, we were able to get through on Friday.

A very important thing to take note of is the spreading of fake news and misinformation, made worse by people who share information without first fact-checking.

What should I do if I think I am displaying symptoms?

The symptoms to look out for include a fever, cough and shortness of breath. If you have reason to be concerned, it is best to seek medical attention as soon as possible from a clinic, a GP or the emergency room of a hospital.

If you’ve travelled or been in contact with someone who has been infected, inform your healthcare practitioner. If you haven’t been in these situations, you have probably not contracted the virus.

Hospitals around the country have prepared isolation rooms to treat patients who are suspected of having the coronavirus.

In February the department of health declared the following hospitals as centres to isolate and treat people who may contract the virus:

  • Polokwane Hospital in Limpopo;
  • Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mpumalanga;
  • Charlotte Maxeke, Steve Biko and Tembisa hospitals in Gauteng;
  • Grace Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal;
  • Klerksdorp Hospital in the North West;
  • Kimberly Hospital in the Northern Cape;
  • Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State;
  • Livingstone Hospital in the Eastern Cape; and
  • Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape.

Following yesterday’s news, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala announced that Greys, Addington, Ngwelezane and Manguzi hospitals will deal with cases of coronavirus in KwaZulu-Natal.

This is not to say other health facilities will not be able to help people who show symptoms. It is recommended that you seek help if you suspect you may be infected.