Editorial: Are we ready for the deadly coronavirus?

Coronavirus has killed close to 3 000 people globally since its outbreak. Picture: iStock
Coronavirus has killed close to 3 000 people globally since its outbreak. Picture: iStock

The novel coronavirus is spreading fast.

It has hit Africa, with Algeria, Egypt and, as of Thursday, Nigeria confirming cases in their countries.

This is foreboding because earlier this month, The Lancet medical journal released a study suggesting that Egypt, Algeria and South Africa were at high risk due to high levels of travel and trade with China.

The study found that Egypt, Algeria and South Africa had “the most prepared health systems on the continent”.

But are we prepared enough?

On Tuesday, a media release from the portfolio committee on tourism and the portfolio committee on health assured South Africans that all precautions were being taken.

It said that, “at the ports of entry in Johannesburg and Cape Town, medical personnel from the communicable disease unit were inspecting and quarantining people who were suspected of carrying the virus”.

It added that South Africa had “a comprehensive strategy” to deal with the virus.

Education is key. The best way to protect ourselves is not by stocking up on face masks – it is by avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and by maintaining basic hygiene practices when it comes to coughing, sneezing and touching our eyes, noses and mouths.

But, as the virus proved that borders were not enough to halt its travel, the narrative this week shifted from keeping it out to plans of action for once it hits.

People at high risk are the elderly and those with poor immune systems.

Think of those areas where people are poorly nourished, HIV-positive or do not have access to world-class health services, and you realise the challenge that South Africa faces.

Education is key.

The best way to protect ourselves is not by stocking up on face masks – it is by avoiding close contact with people who are sick, and by maintaining basic hygiene practices when it comes to coughing, sneezing and touching our eyes, noses and mouths.

The number one precaution we can take is to wash our hands properly and often – which brings us back to those people in areas without running water nor the money to buy antibacterial soap or sanitiser.

It is hard not to panic. We have to trust that the authorities have it covered.


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