The number of COVID-19 deaths in South Africa has been revised down from two to one mortality, after a subsequent investigation found that one patient was negative for the virus.

Earlier on Friday (March 27), the Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, said South Africa had recorded its first two deaths. The cases were in private and public institutions in the Western Cape.

As of Friday, South Africa had recorded 1 170 positive cases. This is an increase of 243 new cases from yesterday’s announcement. The total number of tests conducted to date is 28 537.

On Friday evening, the Minister in a statement said laboratory results on the 28-year-old, which were received at 5.20pm, showed that the deceased was COVID-19 negative.

“This morning we reported that two deaths had occurred as a result of the COVID-19 virus. The first patient was a 48-year-old female, who had tested positive for COVID-19 on 23 March 2020. She was suffering from pulmonary embolism. This means she had an underlying disease,” the Minister said.

The second patient who died was a suspected case, based on her clinical presentation.

“The clinicians who were treating her have reported to us that this was a female, who had presented at the hospital in respiratory distress,” said Mkhize.

At the time of presentation, she was hypoxic, a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level.

Said the Minister: “She was intubated and transferred to hospital during the early hours of this morning (27 March 2020 at 3am). On arrival in ICU, she was declared dead.

“The clinical picture was suggestive of COVID-19 and therefore a test was conducted. Her laboratory results have since been received at 5.20pm and were confirmed negative. Her immediate family was also tested and they are also negative. She is therefore no longer considered a COVID-19 case.”

This therefore means there is only one confirmed death caused by COVID-19 in South Africa.

Mkhize said he had since been informed that the health workers who managed the patient have been debriefed and counselled.

“I am aware that the public interest around COVID-19 may end up making them feel like they did not perform their duties with utmost care. As a clinician myself, I want to reassure them that making such a diagnosis on presentation is line with our plea to them to keep a high index of suspicion so as not to miss a diagnosis of COVID-19,” he said.

He said this is common practice.

They then conduct further tests to confirm or disprove the diagnosis.

“In this instance, doctors and all health workers involved exercised clinical judgment and took extra precaution in managing this patient. We support this approach,” he said.

He assured health workers that the Department of Health and government we will do everything possible to provide the support required for them to execute their duties.

“Overwhelming as circumstances may be, we ask you to keep up the fight. This is only the beginning and your commitment assures us that we will overcome,” he said.

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