South Africa

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Timeline of a virus

Medical staff in protective suits attend to patients at Wuhan Fang Cang makeshift hospital in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, 17 February 2020 (issued 18 February 2020). The disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has been officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The outbreak, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far killed more than 1,800 people with over 73,000 infected worldwide, mostly in China. EPA-EFE/STRINGER CHINA OUT
By Spotlight
29 Feb 2020 0

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Coronavirus "a public health emergency of international concern" on 30 January 2020. Here is a look at some of the events leading up to that date and where we are now.

30 December 2019

File photo: Buildings are seen amid heavy fog in Wuhan. (Photo supplied)
  • Dr Li Wenliang, of Wuhan, Hubei province, China sends a WeChat (similar to WhatsApp) message to fellow doctors warning them about a possible outbreak of an illness that resembled severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Soon after, Chinese authorities detained Li accusing him of “spreading rumours”. Li nevertheless continued to speak out about the virus and became a symbol of principled resistance to attempts to suppress information about the virus. Li contracted the virus and died on 7 February 2020.

31 December 2019

Medical staff in protective suits attend to patients at Wuhan Fang Cang makeshift hospital in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, 17 February 2020 (issued 18 February 2020). The disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has been officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The outbreak, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far killed more than 1,800 people with over 73,000 infected worldwide, mostly in China. EPA-EFE/STRINGER CHINA OUT
  • A “pneumonia of unknown cause”, detected in Wuhan, China, is officially reported to the WHO Country Office in China.

11 January 2020

Illustrative image | sources: Chinese President Xi Jinping (Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images) / Chinese flag (Wikimedia) / social media icons
  • The Chinese government announces that the first known death caused by the new virus had occurred two days earlier. The virus’ first known victim was a 61-year-old man who had visited the seafood market in Wuhan, thought to have been the source of the outbreak.

13 January 2020

  • The WHO reports that a woman in Thailand had tested positive for the virus – the first case outside of China. Cases would soon follow in Japan, South Korea, the United States and other countries.

24 January 2020

  • An article published in the Lancet medical journal strongly suggests that the virus can be transmitted from person-to-person. The article is one of the first of a flood of academic articles investigating the virus and its spread. Most articles about the virus are published online in ways that make them free to read for anyone who is interested.

27 January 2020

  • Less than three weeks after the first reported death, the death toll in China now stands at 106. Many more deaths would be reported in the following weeks.
  • South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) publishes a statement declaring: “We would like to assure South Africans that South Africa is prepared to deal with the eventuality of a possible imported case as we have put in place systems to rapidly identify, detect and respond to any cases that may reach our borders.”

30 January 2020

  • The WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”.

9 February 2020

  • A month after the first reported death, the coronavirus death toll in China reaches 811, surpassing the number of deaths caused by the SARS outbreak of 2002. 

11 February 2020

  • The WHO gives the name COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) to the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The WHO refers to the virus itself as the COVID-19 virus. The official name of the virus, as given by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, is SARS-CoV-2.

20 February 2020

  • A modelling study published in the Lancet medical journal finds that South Africa, Egypt and Algeria are the three African countries at highest risk of importing the coronavirus. A few days earlier, on February 14, Egypt became the first country in Africa to report a case of COVID-19.

23 February 2020

  • A number of matches in the Italian football league are suspended due to fears of virus transmission at stadiums. These are some of the first public gatherings to be suspended or cancelled in Europe due to COVID-19. Many more would follow.

25 February 2020

  • Deputy Health Minister of Iran, Iraj Harirchi, tests positive for the virus a day after speaking at a press conference about the virus. A substantial outbreak in Iran is suspected.
  • Japanese authorities alert the South African government that two  of 12 South Africans working on the Princess Diamond Cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19. 

27 February 2020

  • Following requests by families of South Africans in China, President Cyril Ramaphosa directs the evacuation of South Africans from Wuhan. A total of 132 of an estimated 199 South Africans living there, indicated they want to be repatriated. None of these individuals have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 
  • First sub-Saharan African confirmed case in Nigeria. It is reported that an Italian citizen working in Lagos flew in from Milan on 25 February and was being treated in Lagos. This brings the total confirmed cases in Africa to 3  after the first reported case in Egypt and another case in Algeria confirmed on 25 February.
  • Head of WHO is quoted as saying the coronavirus outbreak has “pandemic potential”. 

This timeline will be updated as new information emerges about COVID-19.

Note: In this article we draw on a wide variety of sources, including the Lancet’s repository of COVID-19 articles, the WHO’s COVID-19 pages, and this Al Jazeera timeline of the spread of COVID-19.

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