Medical staff transfer a patient of a suspected case of a new coronavirus at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong. Picture: Reuters
Medical staff transfer a patient of a suspected case of a new coronavirus at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong. Picture: Reuters

Western Cape on high alert and ready for coronavirus

By MWANGI GITHAHU Time of article published Jan 24, 2020

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Cape Town - South Africa is on high alert as panic grips countries across the world after more cases of the deadly coronavirus, with its origins in China, are detected outside its borders. 

Tygerberg Hospital has been identified as the reception centre should any cases of the virus (2019-nCoV) be detected within the province’s borders.

The Western Cape’s incoming head of health, Dr Keith Cloete, told reporters on Thursday that plans to tackle the virus were in place.

“The province is always on high alert. We are monitoring everyone coming through our airports. If anyone pitches up with this profile, we will isolate and move them to Tygerberg Hospital, which is geared to deal with such a case within two hours of a report,” Cloete said. 

“All the other systems in the province are geared to go in for quick protection and containment. We feel confident about our ability to respond. 

“You might remember there was Sars and the H1N1 virus. For both of those we had a response strategy, which I was involved in setting up. 

“We have a very good National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), which is connected to international surveillance systems. 

“I must add that the NICD is very happy with our surveillance systems and our preparedness would just kick in,” he said.

The outgoing head of department, Dr Beth Engelbrecht, said: “We still have all our preparedness plans for Ebola on hold. All the equipment at the airports are all ready to ensure that we are able to contain the threat and respond.”

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said: “All our systems are ready for any eventuality. Nobody could have predicted the coronavirus outbreak in China, but we are ready no matter what.”

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo (left) at the announcement of the new head of health for the Western Cape, Dr Keith Cloete (right). Photographer: Lalinka Mahote/ African News Agency (ANA)

The NICD’s Cheryl Cohen said: “In light of the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan City, the Hubei Province of China, the NICD, a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, has systems in place to rapidly identify and detect any imported cases in South Africa. 

“As of yesterday, there have been no cases of the 2019-nCoV in South Africa or on the continent,” she said.

Chinese ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian was away from his office with a delegation, but the Chinese embassy website referred to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang, at his regular media briefing on Wednesday. 

Shuang said: “I’d like to stress that acting with openness, transparency and a high sense of responsibility towards global health security, Chinese authorities shared information of the epidemic with the World Health Organisation, relevant nations and China’s Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan regions in a timely manner.

“While stepping up efforts to contain the outbreak, we will tighten international co-operation and work with the international community to deal with the epidemic to safeguard regional and global health security.”

Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) said: “We are working with the SA Civil Aviation Authority and the Department of Health, who are in contact with global health authorities regarding the risks posed by the coronavirus at South African airports.”

“We are monitoring the situation and are on alert. We will keep passengers updated should screening of travellers and mitigation measures become necessary. In the interim, passengers are encouraged to keep in touch with their airlines regarding travel health and safety advice.”

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association said: “Currently, the WHO (World Health Organisation) does not recommend any specific health measures for travellers. In case of symptoms suggestive to respiratory illness before, during or after travel, travellers are encouraged to seek medical attention and their share travel history with their healthcare provider.

“The WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information currently available on this event. Airlines are prepared to work with public health authorities when there are outbreaks of communicable diseases, with well-developed standards and best practices,” said Iata.


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Cape Argus

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