Africa

SA marks 1 year since the first COVID case was confirmed

On 5 March 2020, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that a 38-year-old KwaZulu-Natal man who had just returned from Italy had tested positive.

FILE: As this news caused a frenzy in some parts of the country, the patient and those that he’d had close contact with were swiftly placed in isolation and monitored. Picture: 123rf.

DURBAN – On this day last year, South Africa recorded its first coronavirus case.

Apart from the constant but often unclear updates from the World Health Organization, very little was known about the virus, whose outbreak was initially detected and mostly concentrated in China.

By the time South Africa’s first case was reported, the virus had spread to other countries, most notably in Europe.

READ: Rand falls after SA confirms first coronavirus case

On 5 March 2020, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that a 38-year-old KwaZulu-Natal man who had just returned from Italy had tested positive.

WATCH: First Coronavirus case confirmed in SA

As this news caused a frenzy in some parts of the country, the patient and those that he’d had close contact with were swiftly placed in isolation and monitored.

Although the patient went on to recover as more cases started to emerge, it was the novelty of the virus, scant information on its origins, as well as fear that fuelled the stigma around those who tested positive.

Eyewitness News spoke to other early COVID-19 patients to reflect on their experiences.

“I woke up one night and I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I just sat on my bed and I struggled. I just could not breathe.”

READ: 4 weeks after first COVID-19 case, SA coming to terms with new reality

Nondumiso Zama is not sure where she contracted the coronavirus in April last year, but suspects it could have been from her workplace in Durban.

“I was getting incredibly feverish. My temperature was erratic. I was extremely exhausted. But I was not feeling flu-ish. I was just fatigued and had breathing problems. After that I just called in sick at work and my manager suggested that I go for a COVID-19 test.”

Zama’s fears were realised when the test came back positive.

The recruitment consultant, whose job required contact with international clients, was immediately placed in isolation at home.

Out of fear of judgement and the stigma then attached to the disease, only those close to Zama knew about her condition.

She said the virus was one of the biggest battles she had conquered and credited her family and friends for helping her to recover.

While grateful for her recovery, she described it as one of the hardest periods of her life.

“It’s painful to have friends drop off food two metres away from your door when all you want is someone to come in and say: are you okay? Let’s open up some windows and get some fresh air.”

While she recovered in isolation, she remembers an extremely confusing and lonely journey, which was only made better by support from her loved ones.

WATCH: President Ramaphosa: South Africa will go into 21-day lockdown

Meanwhile, Lisolethu Magadla and her mother Lulu, also from Kwazulu-Natal, were diagnosed with the coronavirus in June.

They were hit hard.

“It really affected us as a family because of how expensive the medication was and how frequent we had to see the doctor.”

Magadla described their experience as life-changing, saying they no longer took good health for granted.

She said connection with loved ones through social media saw her through difficult times and enabled her family to adopt an optimistic outlook.

Today, South Africa has recorded more than 1.5 million COVID-19 cases and over 50,000 deaths, discovered a new more transmissible variant and is only just emerging from a second wave.

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