The South African government has dismissed reports contained in a Mail & Guardian article that South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers are not willing to travel to Wuhan, China, to repatriate citizens.
Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) Acting Director-General Phumla Williams said the article is misleading and misinforms readers and the public about government’s handling of the repatriation of South Africans and goes against the paradigm of responsible journalism.
“The article casts aspersions on the work of government on the repatriation process of South African nationals from Wuhan, China, by an unnamed source.
“The discourse in the article about SANDF officials is also deceptive, as all hands are on deck to ensure a smooth repatriation process of our people. Government reassures all South Africans that government is on track with the repatriation process,” said Williams on Friday.
The Mail & Guardian reported that a senior official “intimately familiar with the discussions” told them: “We do have an aircraft that is ready to go. There are no warm bodies that want to go to China, as they fear the risk… Honestly, no one can force them to go there if they don’t want to. For real, no one expected things to go as smoothly as the government had thought.”
Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the repatriation of South African citizens from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, which is the epicentre of the Coronavirus in China.
Cabinet took the decision to repatriate South Africans based in China following several requests from their families.
Government maintained that the terms of reference for the provision of an aircraft for the repatriation includes trained crew members to assist the passengers.
“This is in line with civil aviation regulations, which require trained and registered crew members to assist the passengers on the plane.
“All services that are required for the repatriation are being finalised and the public will be informed accordingly,” said Williams.
Government reiterated that all South Africans that will be repatriated are not sick and that the World Health Organisation’s protocols for the repatriation will be adhered to.
“Government calls upon citizens to remain calm and spread truths about the virus to overcome the global challenge of misinformation in the public domain. Every person must practice responsible behaviour to contain the spread of COVID-19,” said Williams.
This includes: regular washing of hands with an alcohol based hand rub or wash them with water and soap, maintain a 1 metre distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing and sneezing, and ensure that surface are wiped and kept clean.
First confirmed Coronavirus case
On Thursday, South Africa confirmed its first case of the Coronavirus in the country.
A 38-year-old KwaZulu-Natal man, who travelled to Italy with his wife, has tested positive for the virus. The couple was part of a group of 10 people and they arrived back in South Africa on 1 March 2020.
The patient consulted a private general practitioner on 3 March with symptoms of fever, headache, malaise, a sore throat and a cough. The practice nurse took swabs and delivered it to the lab. The patient has been self-isolating since 3 March. The couple also has two children.
Updating the media on the developments of COVID-19, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ Professor Cheryl Cohen said as far as travellers are concerned, people who are most at risk of exposure are the traveller’s close contacts.
“The people that we will be quarantining are the people close to this individual.
“We have a definition of what constitutes a close contact. All those people will be asked to self-quarantine in their home for 14 days and be monitored by our medical staff to make sure that if they get any symptoms, they are rapidly tested,” she said on Thursday.
Cohen said the case definition of the virus has been expanded to include testing of any person with a pneumonia of unexplained aetiology, even if they have not travelled.
“That was included to increase our sensitivity, our ability to detect a case should the virus be circulating in the community. We are planning to start testing for the virus on our routine surveillance programme.
“We have systems in place to monitor respiratory disease, predominantly focused on influenza,” she said.
Who is most at risk?
There’s currently no data indicating that people with HIV are more severely affected by the virus.
“What we know is that the severe cases to date are with elderly people. Based on what we know from other respiratory illnesses like influenza — including bacterial causes of pneumonia — people who are receiving antiretroviral treatment and are stable on treatment and well suppressed, the treatment substantially reduces their risk of severe illness with these viruses and there’s no reason to suspect that this should be different,” Cohen said.
She advised people who are concerned they meet the case definition of Coronavirus infection to seek care.
“Identify yourself at a [health] facility very quickly and don’t mix with other people. In the case of the infectious person, if you do have a surgical mask available, that could be helpful to reduce respiratory droplets,” she said.
Cohen said there is no indication that COVID-19 is spreading widely in South Africa.
“At this time, for the general public of South Africa, there isn’t a risk in terms of this virus spreading in the general community,” Cohen said.
Government containing spread of virus
According to the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, there is no need to panic as medical authorities are taking all measures to contain the spread of the virus.
The Minister said South Africa has not put any travel restrictions but vigilance will be increased to monitor the virus.
“We are going to be including a number of countries where we think that the level of transmission is higher, and encourage people to self-disclose their whereabouts and their contacts with people who could have been infected…
“We are going to follow international norms once we find that there was any contact,” Mkhize said.
In addition to the operations centre, the department announced the following hospitals as centres for isolation and treatment of people infected with Coronavirus:
- Polokwane Hospital in Limpopo
- Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mpumalanga
- Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Steve Biko Hospital and Tembisa Hospitals in Gauteng
- Grey’s Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal
- Klerksdorp Hospital in the North West
- Kimberly Hospital in the Northern Cape
- Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State
- Livingstone Hospital in the Eastern Cape
- Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape
More educative information can be accessed on http://www.health.gov.za/index.php/outbreaks/145-corona-virus-outbreak/465-corona-virus-outbreak.