Travel bans having some impact says health ministry

Authorities said infection cases of those returning from abroad were dropping.
Authorities said infection cases of those returning from abroad were dropping.

The number of South Africans who had travelled abroad and were now infected with the coronavirus is decreasing, though local transmissions are on the rise.

This was confirmed to DispatchLIVE by  Dr Lwazi Manzi, the spokesperson for health minister Zweli Mkhize, on Wednesday only hours after the minister said penetration of the virus was “small” in SA.

When asked what Mkhize had meant by this when he appeared on state television, Manzi said infection cases of those returning from abroad were dropping.

The number had decreased since  President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster two weeks ago and travel bans had since been implemented.

However, the  number of local transmissions — or people who contracted the virus without travelling overseas — was escalating, according to Manzi.

At the time of writing on Wednesday, the number of citizens confirmed to have the virus was 709.

This was an increase of 155 cases from Tuesday's 554.

While SA has the highest number of cases in Africa, it still has not registered any deaths. Two people are in intensive care, however.  

“Right now, our  cases are rising very fast. You can't really stop a virus spreading by air, but what we want to do is make sure that the numbers don't rise so fast and so high that they completely overwhelm the health system,” Manzi said.

“We want to make sure that the numbers rise very slowly so that the health system can deal with those who have  Covid-19.”

She said the 21-day lockdown had been implemented largely to  “deal with people who have tested positive while inside the country”.

Manzi said most people carrying the infection had arrived from high-risk countries.

“What we envisage is going to happen is that those people who travelled abroad are going to pass the infection to somebody here in the country, someone who never travelled. Occasionally there will be sporadic infections, where we don't know where that person picked up the infection,” said Manzi.

She said an example was a South African who travelled to a high-risk country, came back without the necessary screening for the virus, met with family and friends and infected those around him or her.

“That is why the president announced (two weeks ago) that all international flights have been suspended. This was to try to stop the disease from being spread from imported cases, those who travelled overseas. Now, the lockdown is to deal with local transmissions,” she said.

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula provided some insight on Wednesday into how the looming lockdown would affect public transport in the country.

He said it was envisaged that minibus taxis would be allowed to operate for a limited time during morning and afternoon peak hours to ferry people authorised to move around,  such as essential-services personnel.

“A lockdown is a lockdown ... There will be special catering for public transport, we will deal with the details later on in terms of taxis. We’re looking at allocating time for the operation of taxis in the morning peak and in the afternoon. During the day it will be lockdown,” he said in an interview with Radio 702.

“Trains, we’re looking at not operating at all. Long distance has been shut down in terms of Shosholoza Meyl ... We are looking at intensifying in the aviation sector that airlines from affected countries should not come to SA.”

Essential-services workers would be allowed to use public transport during peak hours, provided they could produce proof about their work. All employers would be expected to generate special permits for workers who provided a recognised essential service.

The e-hailing industry, such and Uber and Bolt, would not be permitted to operate, along with metered taxis.

As an indication of how seriously the government is taking the lockdown, a Ladysmith salon owner who tested positive for the coronavirus has been charged with attempted murder for continuing to work at his business and disregarding an instruction to self-quarantine.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said a list of 27 people who were at the salon and at a religious gathering are being sought for testing after coming into contact with the man, 52.

“On March 24 at about 3.30pm, Ladysmith police officers received information that a man who had allegedly tested positive with coronavirus came in contact with other people in Ladysmith area.

“The same man travelled to various countries. On his return on March 18 he was tested positive with Covid-19 and was instructed to self-quarantine for at least 14 days pending the blood results.

“However, the man allegedly continued with his business since March 21 and in doing so disregarded the instructions by a doctor, thus contravening regulations in terms of the National Disaster Act pertaining to the Covid-19 virus,” he said.

The man was arrested.

Additional reporting by Nomahlubi Jordaan and Nivashni Nair