News / South Africa / Health

3 minute read
31 Jan 2020
11:11 am

SA in contact with international authorities to deal with coronavirus


Mkhize said there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa yet, but said that if diagnoses are made, 'We would be able to deal with it ourselves'.

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize aimed to put South Africans’ minds at ease by explaining protocols and updates on the coronavirus.

This as the virus (2019-nCoV) outbreak has slowly spread around the world. A student in Ivory Coast is Africa’s first diagnosed coronavirus patient.

Mkhize said there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa yet, but said that if diagnoses are made: “We would be able to deal with it ourselves.”

11 hospitals across the country have been earmarked as coronavirus treatment centres. In Gauteng, Charlotte Maxeke hospital, Steve Biko hospital and Tembisa hospital will be taking in positively diagnosed patients.

In Limpopo, Polokwane hospital will be used, Rob Ferreira hospital will be used in Mpumalanga, Grace hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, Klerksdorp hospital in the North West, Pelonomi hospital in the Free State, Kimberley hospital in the Northern Cape, Livingston hospital in the Eastern Cape, and Tygerberg hospital in the Western Cape.

Mkhize explained that these hospitals could adequately handle cases, and patients positively diagnosed from other hospitals will be transported to the abovementioned facilities, to contain and treat the virus.

The current incubation period of the coronavirus is 14 days, and the most at-risk patients are those that suffer from immune deficiency.

No specific antiviral treatment or vaccine is currently available, and cases will be treated individually, depending on the symptoms exhibited by the patient. Mkhize said there had been no evidence of mutations in the disease since it was discovered in humans.

However, he said that work to develop a vaccine was currently underway.

Officials from the department of tourism, international relations, police, home affairs, health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) officials have been briefed, Mkhize assured.

He added that an emergency operation centre was activated on Thursday evening, and was currently operational, “with dedicated staff working exclusively on the coronavirus”.

Mkhize lauded concerned members of the public currently flooding NICD phone lines, especially since symptoms exhibited with the coronavirus are similar to the common cold.

“It is better to over-suspect than to under-diagnose,” Mkhize said.

Screening measures are currently in place at all ports of entry across the country, and people who have travelled to China or Wuhan in the last two weeks are reportedly being made to fill out questionnaires to ensure a clean bill of health.

Long-distance thermal cameras and handheld thermometers are currently being used to screen travellers, and if need be, the South African military services will be called in for additional support, as early as Friday, Mkhize said.

A new detection device currently being used for coronavirus detection in China can also be made available to South Africa upon request.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reportedly said the virus should not inhibit travel or trade. The WHO has also been in communication with Mkhize and other officials to provide constant updates, should protocols change. Mkhize said academics abroad have also been in contact with the health department.

However, Mkhize said that limiting movement would be a good way to contain the virus.

The repatriation of South African officials currently living or working abroad, currently a hot topic, was also touched on in the briefing, with many family members accusing government of not taking decisive action.

Mkhize said that at present, there is no evidence to support repatriating or evacuating South Africans in China. He added that at this stage, there are no reports of any South Africans with the coronavirus.

However, he did say that two South Africans are currently in quarantine in Tianjin, after being moved from Wuhan City, and are currently under observation.

He assured that the department of international relations and cooperation has a 24-hour hotline for South Africans in China, which hopefully improves communications with citizens currently trapped in the area.

South Africa has requested a detailed database of all students and staff in China.

Currently, the departments are aware that there are 165 South African students and 54 teachers currently living in Wuhan, and 3,000 students living in China. Numbers will be updated according to databases provided by Chinese authorities.

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