The rand came under pressure in afternoon trade on Thursday (5 March) after South Africa confirmed its first Covid-19 coronavirus case.
“We confirm that a suspected case of Covid-19 has tested positive,” the National Institute of Communicable Diseases said.
“This is not as a failure but as a success of our health systems to be able to detect and rapidly identify cases. The case has been self-isolated at home since the onset of symptoms and is receiving treatment.”
The department of health said the patient is a 38-year-old male who travelled to Italy with his wife as part of a group of 10 people.
They arrived back in South Africa on 1 March 2020. The patient consulted a private general practitioner on 3 March, with symptoms of fever, headache, malaise, a sore throat and a cough.
The practice nurse took swabs and delivered it to the lab. The patient has been self-isolating since 3 March, the department said.
The rand extended losses after the announcement, weakening more than 1% against the dollar, while also weakening against the euro and pound.
“The markets are on edge, with many questioning the ability of government to deal with a breakout in SA efficiently,” said Bianca Botes, treasury partner at Peregrine Treasury Solutions.
It has taken more than two months for the virus to reach South African from mainland China, where it originated, Bloomberg said.
Globally, more than 96,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus, with 3,000 confirmed deaths.
Other African countries with confirmed cases include Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt and Algeria. While countries like South Africa have prepared for the arrival of the coronavirus, smaller African economies with poor health-care systems may struggle to contain the outbreak, Bloomberg said.
The spread of the new virus can remain “minimal and slow” if the outbreak is fought at the source and countries cooperate, the World Health Organisation’s chief said.
The WHO declared the outbreak of coronavirus in China a global health emergency on 30 January.
Discovery, South Africa’s largest medical aid, acknowledged the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in South Africa.
Dr Ryan Noach, chief executive officer of Discovery Health, said: “We commend the healthcare providers and Department of Health involved in this case of Covid-19, for the swift action taken to identify and to contain the affected individual and remain in control of the situation.
“We will continue our efforts to ensure that South Africans understand those preventative habits that protect from acquiring this viral illness. We wish this patient a speedy recovery.”
Discovery Health said it is taking prudent and proactive steps to ensure members are covered in the event that Covid-19 infections occur within South Africa.
It said that the National Department of Health has also assured the nation of its readiness to manage any cases of Covid-19.
“The global outbreak has proven that no country or citizen is immune to the spread of novel coronavirus. However, we are confident in our country’s ability to manage the first local case of Covid-19 and any further cases as they present,” said Dr Noach.
The rand traded at the following levels against the major currencies:
- Dollar/Rand: R15.47 (1.41%)
- Pound/Rand: R19.98 (1.73%)
- Euro/Rand: R17.30 (1.86%)