Wuhan, the Chinese city where COVID-19 first made its presence felt in December, is currently part and parcel of the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) planning in conjunction with the national effort to evacuate more than 200 South Africans.
An announcement was made last week by President Cyril Ramaphosa to bring South Africans in China not infected by the virus back home. It said, in part, “The departments of Health and Defence will deploy healthcare personnel and supporting staff to provide assistance during the repatriation and quarantine processes. The Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) will deploy consular services personnel to provide consular assistance. Department of Home Affairs (DHA) will provide immigration services. Department of Social Development (DSD) will offer trauma counselling and support”.
At the weekend Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize elaborated saying the evacuation component “will be undertaken by the military in co-operation with DIRCO and the Chinese authorities”.
Defence and military aviation sources confirmed to defenceWeb the SA Air Force (SAAF) does not have suitable aircraft to move people between China and South Africa. This is supported by Mkhize saying an aircraft will be chartered. He did not specify whether it would be from an airline or a specialist air charter operation and did not give its South African destination apart from saying a port of entry has been prepared to receive the South African nationals, flight crew and accompanying medical team.
Once back in South Africa there will be a quarantine period of at least 21 days. Mkhize did not give any specific location but indications and speculation are a former military base at Thaba Nchu in Free State is the most likely site. The base is used by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in its national rural youth service corps initiative of which the SANDF is part.
The former military base meets the ministerial requirement of being able to isolate, in this instance, a group of COVID-19 negative people exposed to a high-risk environment and remove them from that, then allow the incubation period to lapse before being integrated back into society. Human contact and mixing of groups will be limited during the quarantine period.
The perimeter of the quarantine facility will be guarded by the military and it will be declared a no entry and no flight zone.
No exact details of when the South Africans will be flown from Wuhan or to where in South Africa were given by Mkhize. Defence force communications officers told defenceWeb they would not release information on COVID-19 or the China evacuation.
“The Department of Health is the lead agency and will handle all communication relating to coronavirus,” one said.
Meanwhile, two South Africans have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus on the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship in Japan.
“We confirm that these citizens are currently being treated in Japan and are in good care. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation and the Department of Health are in constant contact with the individuals and the Japanese authorities,” said the National Institute for Communicable Diseases on Friday.
To date, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Africa, and the institute continues to test for possible cases.
On 27 February, Nigeria recorded its first positive case of COVID-19.
Given these recent developments globally and in Africa, the NICD said it is not unlikely that South Africa will have importation of COVID-19.
“As such, we continue to monitor trends of COVID-19 globally and in the African region to improve our knowledge of the disease and to continually enhance our surveillance and response,” said the NICD.