First case of COVID-19 announced – an update

The Minister of Health, on 05 March 2020, made an official announcement of a local confirmed COVID-19 case in South Africa, of a 38-year old man from KwaZulu-Natal who travelled to Italy.  The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, wishes to clarify that the COVID-19 indicates the strength of our surveillance and  South Africa’s health systems to be able to detect and rapidly identify cases.

The case has been isolated and containment measures are ongoing including the monitoring of contacts. It is important to note that the identification of a single imported case in a traveller from an area with widespread community transmission does not mean that COVID-19 is currently spreading in South African communities. The risk to the general community of acquiring COVID-19 remains low.

The NICD wishes to stress that the evidence available to date suggests that the vast majority of cases of COVID-19 (>80%) have mild illness and severe illness is predominantly in the elderly and those with underlying illnesses who are also at risk of other respiratory infections.

We urge South Africans to reduce the risk of acquiring COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by practising good hand hygiene: frequent correct hand washing, cough hygiene, staying at home when ill and keeping distance away from sick people with respiratory illness.

Moreover, the influenza season is approaching and the influenza vaccine will soon be widely available. The NICD wishes to encourage the public to get the influenza vaccine to reduce the chance of illness which may be confused with COVID-19 as influenza presents similar signs as COVID-19. The Influenza vaccine is especially recommended for individuals who fall into the risk groups for severe influenza illness which includes the elderly, those with underlying illness including HIV positive persons and pregnant women.

It is through the cooperation of healthcare workers and professionals in many other sectors that we will be able to contain and mitigate COVID-19 going forward.

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