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Since it was officially announced on 7 January 2020 that a new virus, the 2019 novel coronavirus (covid-19), has been identified, South Africans have gone from being spectators to the catastrophe that was spreading worldwide, to victims when the first case was confirmed in South Africa on 5 March 2020.
The patient, a 38-year-old male, was part of a group of 10 people who travelled to Italy, and sought medical advice on his return to South Africa after he experienced symptoms of a fever, malaise, headache, sore throat and a cough. Three days later, his wife, who also travelled to Italy, became the third person who tested positive for the virus in South Africa.
The 2019 novel coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan in China after a group of people was diagnosed with pneumonia caused by an unknown virus. According to the World Health Organisation most of these people were associated with a seafood and live animal market. The World Health Organisation states that coronaviruses circulate in a range of animals and can spill over from animals to humans. The animal reservoir of covid-19 has not been confirmed yet.
Symptoms of this particular virus can range from mild to severe, and in some cases can be fatal, especially in the elderly and in people with underlying diseases.
On 23 January, Wuhan went into lockdown after the virus spread to major cities and provinces in China, with 571 confirmed cases and 17 deaths reported. All modes of transport including cars, trains and planes were prohibited and many South Africans were stranded in the city. On 5 March, Times Live reported that 184 South Africans living in Wuhan asked to be evacuated by the South African government. Their calls were heeded on 14 March when 114 South Africans, which included only healthy citizens with no symptoms, returned to South Africa and were placed in quarantine in Limpopo for 14 days. This decision sparked an outcry as both politicians and citizens were concerned not only about the expatriation costs, but also the potential health risk of bringing home citizens from the epicentre of the outbreak.
On 15 March, with 61 confirmed cases in the country, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the first measures to be set in place to try flatten the curve of the spread of the virus. These included all schools closing two days early for the school holidays, a travel ban from 18 March, prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people and restricting the sale of alcohol after 6pm.
Eight days later, on 23 March, the President addressed the nation again, this time to announce a 21-day nationwide lockdown from midnight 26 March to midnight 16 April. During his speech, President Ramaphosa confirmed that the number of covid-19 cases in South Arica had increased six-fold in just eight days from 61 cases to 402 cases. According to him, the rapid rise in infections could stretch the countries health care services. Concerns were also raised on the devastating effects the virus could have on the large number of people with suppressed immunity because of HIV and TB, and malnourished people due to high levels of poverty.
The South African National Defence Force was deployed to assist police officers to ensure the lockdown regulations were adhered to. Regulations included all citizens, except ones performing essential services, to stay home at all times. Citizens were allowed to leave their homes to purchase essential goods or for essential services like medical care. Controversial regulations, which included prohibiting the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, were also implemented.
On the same day lockdown started, the first coronavirus death in South Africa was announced. The first victim was a 48-year-old female, who also suffered from pulmonary embolism and tested positive for covid-19.
On 9 April, the government announced an extension to its period of lockdown for an additional two weeks until 30 April. According to the president there were 1.5 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 90 000 people had died from this disease worldwide. According to him, South Africa had managed to flatten the curve as the average daily increase in new cases was around 42% two weeks before lockdown and had been decreased to an average increase of only 4% during the lockdown. At that stage, South Africa had 1934 confirmed cases of the virus and a total of 18 confirmed deaths.
During the second phase of lockdown, which started on 17 April, some regulations were amended including allowing trades people like plumbers, mechanics and electricians to perform critical repairs and maintenance. The ban has also been lifted on the selling of essential hardware and spare parts.
When the second phase of lockdown started, 903 people have recovered from the coronavirus in South Arica, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and a total of 48 people have died due to the disease.