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South Africa reports first coronavirus case

South Africa on Thursday confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus, a 38-year-old male who travelled to Italy, the health ministry announced.

It is the first case in southern Africa, and the latest confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria and Senegal.

“This morning,… the National Institute for Communicable Diseases confirmed that a suspected case of COVID-19 has tested positive,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement.

The case was detected in the country’s eastern Kwa-Zulu Natal province.

The patient and his wife were part of a group of 10 people who arrived back in South Africa from Italy on March 1.

Two days later, on March 3, he consulted a private general practitioner with a fever, headache, sore throat and a cough. He has been admitted to hospital.

The minister refused to disclose the nationality of the patient.

Italy has emerged as the European hotspot for the virus, where it has claimed 107 lives — alongside Iran, the deadliest outbreak outside China.

More than 90,000 people have been infected and over 3,000 killed worldwide since the virus first emerged in China in December.

The continent now has 29 cases, including those already detected in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged South Africans not to panic, but warned of the potential impact on the country’s struggling economy.

“The government will demonstrate its seriousness in terms of dealing with this matter,” he told the media at an airforce base in the capital Pretoria.

“We are just at the beginning of this,” he said, warning “it will turn out to be a national crisis”.

“It will have a huge impact on a number of things… (including a) negative impact also on our economy which as we all know is in a very precarious situation”.

South Africa is preparing to repatriate 184 of its citizens — comprising students, teachers and other professionals working in China’s Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic.

The government’s information department also announced that two South Africans working on the cruise ship Diamond Princess moored off Japan who had initially tested positive for the virus, “have now tested negative and will shortly be making their way home”.

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