Update on South Africa’s preparedness to tackle the Wuhan coronavirus

 ·28 Jan 2020

The South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says it is watching the spread of the Wuhan coronoavirus carefully, but is confident that South Africa will be able to rapidly detect and deal with any cases that might enter its borders.

The group noted data from World Health Organisation (WHO) about the increase in the number of novel coronavirus (2019-NCOV) cases that have spread across parts of the world, saying that it was expected and that South Africa is ready to identify and deal with any cases should they arise in the country.

“These cases were anticipated due to the proximity and close interlinks of transportation modes to Asia. 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,” it said.

“Together with the National Department of Health, the NICD has developed and distributed clinical guidelines and case definitions for doctors and nurses in both the public and the private sectors to better detect, identify and respond to a possible 2019-nCoV case.

“The guidelines include guidance on what samples to collect to confirm the diagnosis as well as how to best manage the case clinically and to prevent spread to others while the diagnosis is being made,” it said.

To date, there have been no reported cases of the virus in South Africa, or on the African continent.

The WHO was first alerted to the virus on 31 December 2019, at which point it did not match any other known virus. The new virus has since been identified as a coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that include the common cold, and viruses such as SARS and MERS.

The WHO’s assessment of the risk levels of this event is very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level.

According to the latest reports, total infections are over 4,500 in China alone, with over 100 deaths, and about 125 people in critical condition. Due to contact with people from the Wuhan region and other affected areas, the virus has spread to other countries.

This includes the United States, Canada, Australia and Vietnam. The USA and Canada have issued travel warnings over the disease. South Africa has not issued a travel warning.

High alert

South Africa’s Health Department said that South Africans have nothing to worry about, with government working with port officials to screen for the virus.

“Port health professionals routinely conducts temperature screening for all international travellers. However, due to the current risk of importation of inadvertent cases of 2019-nCoV from Wuhan City – China, Port Health authorities have enhanced surveillance of all travellers from Asia, especially China.

“Fortunately, OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airports are the only ports of entry with direct flights from Asia,” it said.

“Provinces have activated outbreak response teams and are on high alert to detect and manage inadvertent cases that may arrive in the country.”

Read: How the Wuhan coronavirus compares to the world’s biggest killer diseases

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