Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize says that South Africa is on high alert for any traces of the Wuhan coronavirus, assuring that the country and its hospitals are prepared in the event that the virus reaches our borders.
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Mkhize said that there are no reported or suspected cases of the virus in South Africa. There is active screening at the main ports in the country, and that officials have been adequately briefed on the matter.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has also set up a dedicated team to run a 24/7 operation centre, which would activate an ‘alert mode’ if a case were to be detected.
Should a case be identified in South Africa, the individual(s) will be treated and quarantined, the minister said, with the National Health Laboratory Services offering 24-hour laboratory services to detect the virus, should there be suspicion.
Additionally, three major public hospitals – Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Steve Biko Hospital and Tembisa Hospital – have been prepared to receive coronavirus cases should they occur.
About the virus
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, over 6,000 people have been infected with the virus, with over 130 deaths. The virus has spread to other countries, with cases showing up in the USA, Australia, Canada and in Europe (France and Germany).
While no cases have yet emerged in South Africa, suspected cases have been discovered in Zambia, marking the first potential threats on the African continent.
The WHO said that patients with 2019-nCoV infection are presenting with a wide range of symptoms.
“Most seem to have mild disease, and about 20% appear to progress to severe disease, including pneumonia, respiratory failure and in some cases death,” it said.
“Clinical care of suspected patients with 2019-nCoV should focus on early recognition, immediate isolation (separation), implementation of appropriate infection prevention and control (IPC) measures and provision of optimised supportive care.”
Monitoring the situation
Unlike other countries where cases have been detected, Mkhize said there is no restriction on travel or trade being issued for South African travellers, but it is being recommended that non-essential travel to Wuhan City or its province be avoided or postponed.
“It is our understanding that Wuhan City has effectively been quarantined, and 5 million citizens evacuated,” Mkhize said.
The minister said that the government is monitoring the situation and will release regular updated to avoid the spread of fake news and panic about the situation.
He said that the department has effectively kept track of all potential pandemics, and the coronavirus was no exception.