South Africa’s health ministry on Thursday retracted a comment that the country had seen the first case of local transmission of the coronavirus, saying that an error had been made by the laboratory that tested the patient.
Sub-Saharan Africa has reported far fewer cases of coronavirus than in Europe or China, but some analysts worry it could spread rapidly in poor or overcrowded areas if local transmission does take hold.
In giving an update on cases, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize retracted a statement that a patient had contracted the virus after contact with a Chinese businessman, saying such reference should not have been made and that the person had been confirmed negative after subsequent testing.
“We want to indicate publicly we withdraw that and we regret that such a reference was made,” he said.
South Africa’s new total of 16 confirmed cases of coronavirus, up from 13 on Wednesday, is still the most in sub-Saharan Africa.
It has not reported any deaths from the virus.
If it were to take hold, the potential impact on Africa’s most industrialised economy could be substantial. It is already in recession and suffering from weak investor confidence.
South Africa has stepped up screening at ports of entry to try to limit the risk of new infections but has not imposed bans on travel to China or other badly affected countries.
The government has dispatched a plane to repatriate more than 100 South African citizens living under lockdown conditions in the Chinese city of Wuhan. None of those being repatriated have tested positive for coronavirus.