The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has marked the one year anniversary of the repatriation of South African citizens from Wuhan, China.
On 10 March 2020, a South African Airways A340-600 aircraft took off from OR Tambo International Airport to the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Capital of Central China’s Hubei province. The SANDF contributed 151 personnel to the repatriation mission, which brought South 114 Africans back to a quarantine facility – the SANDF contribution included those providing security at the facility.
The South African Military Health Service (SAMHS) said it heeded the call of the people of South Africa and joined an interdisciplinary team to embark on the daunting repatriation task. “With all the anxiety, fear and speculation that came with the advent of coronavirus, the SAMHS health warriors were amongst those who braved the storm to serve the country and its people. The then Commander of the Operation, Brigadier General Mcebisi Mdutywa remembers the day so vividly, he is proud of the team he led as they flew ‘into the eye of the storm’. He believes that taking extreme precautionary measures during the operation attributed to the team’s safe return,” the SAMHS said.
Mdutywa, now General Officer Commanding Area Military Health Formation, said, “We lifted our hands when no one was ready for the task and said, Thuma mina (send us) responding to the call of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces”.
“Wuhan, that’s where this pandemic started: now it’s us, a few HCPs [health care practitioners] from SAMHS, plus a person from the Department of Health, and SAA crew, going into the unknown. By that time China had more than 80 000 cases already reported… we had to brave it. As soldiers we pledged we would support South Africans wherever they are. When we came back, none of them were positive.”
“We were the fist wones to go into the eye of the storm but even today we are still safe because what we learnt form that operation is that if you take extra precautionary measures and you follow them correctly you will be safe,” Mdutywa said.
Of the repatriation, he said, “it will go down as one of the greatest achievements of the South African National Defence Force.”