Three locations in three provinces were shortlisted as potential quarantine venues for the South Africans being repatriated from Wuhan, China, where the Covid-19 outbreak began in December 2019.
But Protea Hotel’s The Ranch Resort in Polokwane was the ultimate pick, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Thursday night, because of it being fairly remote and being close to an airport.
The group is due to land this weekend.
Mkhize said various factors were taken into consideration before a venue was chosen by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), which was tasked with steering the repatriation and quarantine mission.
On Thursday night, the inter-ministerial committee dealing with the coronavirus briefed the media on the latest developments ahead of the arrival of the 122 people being repatriated from Wuhan. The committee consists of among others Mkhize, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Police Minister Bheki Cele.
Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha was also present at the briefing.
Among the factors looked at before a venue was chosen, was the fact that the evacuees were not sick and would therefore did not need to be kept in a hospital or health facility. The venue also needed to be comfortable so they could relax while under observation.
Mkhize said SANDF generals were given guidelines. This included that the quarantine area should be far from communities so that no one not permitted to be in the area could wander around.
— Sesona Sestien Ngqakamba (@Sesona_Ngqaks) March 12, 2020
[WATCH]: Mkhize announces that the SA citizens arriving from China will be quarantined at The Ranch Hotel in Polokwane.
He clarifies, again, that they are not sick and the isolation for 14 days is precautionary measure. #CoronavirusInSA (@Sesona_Ngqaks) pic.twitter.com/7FEJddh8gD
— Team News24 (@TeamNews24) March 12, 2020
Also taken into consideration was that the venue had to have individual rooms as well as accommodation for families.
Another criteria in the search for a venue was that it should be near an airport to avoid long hours of travel to the venue.
One of the sites scouted was in Upington. That, however, was an open veld which would have needed tents, which was not ideal for the large group, Mkhize said.
Another potential site was in Thaba Nchu in the Free State but there were issues with the number of rooms to accommodate the group. There were also concerns about whether the nearest airport had enough space for landing the aircraft.
A site in KZN
The last site was a lodge in KwaZulu-Natal but there were issues with the number of rooms and the travelling time from the airport.
Eventually, The Ranch Resort, just 25km outside Polokwane, was chosen.
The resort is on the N1 freeway and can be accessed using the R101. There are no communities nearby.
All entrances to the area are already highly secured by armed SAPS and SANDF members.
“They found this one to be ideal. These things were taking place in a very short space of time. There’s been an agreement with the owners of this particular place. There has also been work done with the staff,” Mkhize said.
‘They are government’s responsibility’
The area is completely under lockdown and no one, including the media, will be allowed in after the group’s arrival. Drones will not be allowed to fly over for viewing, the minister said at the briefing.
Mkhize added that, while the Wuhan evacuees will be free to roam around the resort, they will not be allowed to make direct contact with their families until after the 14-day quarantine period ends.
“Those who are sick, will get treatment. Only when you are reported to be healthy and negative of the virus can you come back.
“There will be 14 days after leaving Wuhan. [We do not count the days] before they left Wuhan because the coronavirus is endemic in Wuhan.
“It is the government’s responsibility to look after and make sure the quarantine is done properly.”
Mkhize noted that there will be rolling patrols by SAPS and SANDF members throughout the process to ensure no person not permitted to be on the premises, is able to get inside.
Soldiers protect the perimeter of the hotel outside Polokwane where 122 South Africans from Wuhan will be housed.
The inter-ministerial committee has said it was aware of concerns from communities in the area but gave the assurance that there was no reason to panic because the Wuhan evacuees are not sick.
He also said no one from the outside would be allowed to engage psychically with anyone on the premises.
Life insurance for resort staff
Even the flight crew, pilots, hotel staff, police and soldiers will be quarantined and have all agreed to it, Mkhize said.
“This coronavirus is a public health emergency of international concern. Here is the law of military. If someone is found positive from here, they will be evacuated.
“There won’t be anyone here who is sick or has evidence of the presence of the coronavirus. People who are here are just under observation.”
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma met with concerned staff at the resort.
They were briefed that the mission was not compulsory and if any one was not comfortable, they would not be prejudiced.
They also raised issues about falling sick and were assured of treatment.
Dlamini-Zuma said the workers also raised questions about procedures should something happen to them while on the mission.
Mkhize announced that they had met with Momentum insurance. The company had offered to partner with government to offer limited life cover for a number of months to workers to ensure they are covered in the event something happens.
Workers will also undergo medical tests.
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