UPDATE | South Africans in Wuhan to be repatriated amid deadly coronavirus outbreak

2020-02-27 20:52
A student wearing a mask. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

A student wearing a mask. (Jaco Marais, Netwerk24)

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The South African government is planning to repatriate all South Africans from the Chinese city of Wuhan where the deadly coronavirus originated.

Also called COVID-19, the virus was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei province, in November 2019.

"The Cabinet has decided on this course of action after due consideration of the circumstances and following several requests from the families of South Africans in the city," the Presidency said in a statement on Thursday.

It is estimated that there were 199 South Africans in Wuhan, according to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco).

"At this stage, 132 of them have expressed the desire to be repatriated."

The Presidency said none of the individuals had been diagnosed with the virus or exhibited any symptoms.

"Upon arrival in South Africa, they will be placed in quarantine for 21 days as an additional precautionary measure." 

READ | Virus hits more countries as health official warns world 'not ready'

The departments of health and defence will deploy healthcare personnel and supporting staff to provide assistance during the repatriation and quarantine processes.

Dirco would provide consular assistance, while the Department of Home Affairs would provide immigration services.

The social development department would offer trauma counselling and support.

Ramaphosa thanked the Chinese government and people for their assistance and support, reiterating South Africa's confidence in China's ability to control the outbreak of the virus "as evidenced by, among others, the commendable progress made to date".

ALSO READ | Coronavirus: Do you need a mask? Spoilers, the answer is no

A senior government official with direct knowledge of high-level meetings that took place on Wednesday confirmed there were serious concerns about the plan, saying they were worried about the security risks associated with the hotel where the group would be quarantined.

Once staff have been exposed to the returnees, they will have to remain at the hotel for the entire quarantine period. 

According to the official, the military plane would land at a small airstrip a short distance from the hotel. Military personnel would be called on to conduct the quarantine. 

The official said residents of the area in question were also up in arms following consultations.

"They can leave the hotel at any time," the official said. "It's a hotel, it's not like there are burglar bars on the windows."

TIMELINE | How China's new coronavirus spread

Read more on:    coronavirus  |  health
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