President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced plans to evacuate South Africans from the epicentre of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.
It is estimated that there are 199 South Africans citizens in Wuhan as per the latest consolidated list from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. At this stage, 132 of them have expressed the desire to be repatriated.
These South Africans are currently living under lockdown conditions following the outbreak of the coronavirus, the office of the presidency said.
“None of the affected individuals has been diagnosed with the virus nor have they exhibited any symptoms thereof. ,” it said.
The plan will involve several departments to ensure that all angles are covered:
- Upon arrival in South Africa, they will be placed in quarantine for 21 days as an additional precautionary measure;
- The Departments of Health and Defence will deploy healthcare personnel and supporting staff to provide assistance during the repatriation and quarantine processes;
- The Department of International Relations and Cooperation will deploy consular services personnel to provide consular assistance;
- Department of Home Affairs will provide immigration services;
- Department of Social Development will offer trauma counselling and support.
Covid-19, was first reported in Wuhan, China in November 2019.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of the virus – which set in motion coordination efforts worldwide, as well as the implementation of strict surveillance measures – as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
South Africans infected
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NCID) said that, as of 26 February, there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Africa.
“So far we are the only lab testing for (Covid-19) in South Africa and confirm that there has been no positive case to date.
“We have tested 121 people for SARS-CoV-2, 77 met the case definition for patient under investigation. As of 26 February, all results have come out negative,” it said.
However, while no cases have been found in the country, at least two South Africans have been diagnosed with the virus abroad, according the Department of Health.
The department on Friday said that two South African citizens working on a Japanese cruise ship have tested positive for Covid-19,
It noted that there were 12 South African crew members working on board the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, which was recently quarantined after it was affected by Covid-19.
Over 700 passengers tested positive for the virus and are receiving medical attention.
“On 25 February 2020, we were informed by the Japanese authorities that two of these South Africans tested positive for Covid-19. They are currently being treated in Japan and the latest reports indicate that they are currently asymptomatic,” the department said in a statement.
“At this stage, it is most appropriate that the Covid-19 confirmed South African citizens should be treated in Japan until they are fully recovered from the virus and are no longer contagious before they travel further.”
Measures in South Africa
Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, has assured South Africans that the country is ready to handle any cases of Covid-19 that may occur.
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has activated its Emergency Operations Center that is closely monitoring Covid-19 developments. In addition, NICD is performing laboratory testing for the disease.
No quarantine procedures are currently in place – but will be when the evacuated South Africans land – and the government has designated 10 hospitals as primary treatment sites for Covid-2019, if needed.
The US embassy in South Africa has noted that there are no apparent restrictions on travel to and from China, adding that all travellers arriving from China must complete a traveller questionnaire with contact information and recent Covid-19 exposure.
There are infrared thermometers and health personnel at all ports of entry (air, sea, and land) for screening passengers.
To date, Covid-19 has killed more than 2,800 people and infected about 83,000 worldwide. There have also been over 27,000 recoveries. The virus is particularly deadly to those with compromised immune systems.
New infections at the epicentre in Wuhan are still happening, but the Chinese government has noted a decline. However, the spread of the virus has increased in other countries, with South Korea, Japan and Italy hit particularly hard.
According to the WHO, outside China the virus has spread to a further 46 countries, where about 3,700 cases and 57 deaths have been reported so far.
New infections have been reported in Belarus and Nigeria – the latter of which marks the first Sub-Saharan country to confirm a case. The affected Nigerian is an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan this week.
The World Health Organisation has not yet declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic, but several countries are not waiting for the announcement and are already launching their emergency responses.
Qatar has evacuated its citizens from Iran, and Australia has launched its emergency levels, currently set to low.