As 151 South African citizens living in Wuhan, China are due to be brought back home, the South African government has assured the public that it is ready to tackle the threat of the coronavirus, with no positive cases reported in the country yet.
Speaking at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Sunday, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu and other government representatives gave an update on the situation and how government plans to deal with incoming South Africans from Wuhan, China.
So far, 121 people have been tested for the coronavirus in South Africa and all the results were negative, Mkhize said.
He added, however, that two South Africans aboard the Princess Diamond cruise ship in Japan tested positive and were receiving support in Japan. They will be able to return home when they have been cleared of the virus.
"We have not got a case of coronavirus infection. We have not lost anyone but there are countries which have huge resources which have got more cases, that have lost individuals unfortunately..."
He was critical of the attitude among the public that South Africa was "not ready" when there was no basis for those sentiments.
"We are going to pull together the top specialists in infectious diseases [and] virologists to look at what we should be looking at in preparation for a future where this could be an endemic virus where you could pick it up anywhere. That is something no country has done," he added.
Speculation that Africa was under-reporting cases
Mkhize said there had been speculation that Africa was under-reporting cases but said this was prejudiced.
So far, three African countries have reported cases of the virus, namely Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria.
Mkhize maintained this indicated that African countries can report cases properly.
"Already these countries have demonstrated that they can diagnose one case. As to who begins to think they are under-reporting, I think we're beginning to delve into prejudice because you cannot have a situation where countries have repatriated their citizens, they've found they have an infection in their own country… [yet] that is a fault of Africa.
"Africa just does not have [as many] cases," he said.
Mkhize said a state-of-the-art laboratory, recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has been testing for cases of the virus on behalf of most African countries.
He questioned whether the idea that Africa was under-reporting came from the fact that South Africa was doing the testing, or "is it the fact that the distribution of the infection is unequal throughout the world, as random as any disease can be".
Mkhize said aspersions should not be cast on countries where less cases of the virus were reported.
"We need to make an exception to allegations that Africa is under-counting when no one can prove to us that there are cases hidden somewhere."
He assured the public that figures are checked by the WHO and the organisation is also working with countries to ensure the correct steps are taken.
"When you are creating an image to the public of 'you can't trust your government', we think that you are actually abetting the spread of the infection because you are causing people to become suspicious of any information they get and there is no basis for this," Mkhize said.
Government has set up a hotline for citizens who have questions about the virus or suspect they may have symptoms. The number is 0800 029 999.