A plane carrying a group of 122 South Africans who are returning from coronavirus-hit Wuhan, China, are expected to arrive at the Polokwane International Airport. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
A plane carrying a group of 122 South Africans who are returning from coronavirus-hit Wuhan, China, are expected to arrive at the Polokwane International Airport. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Medical experts call for SA to suspend flights from Europe as Covid-19 cases grow

By Shannon Ebrahim And Karabo Ngoepe Time of article published Mar 15, 2020

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Cape Town - Calls for South Africa to suspend travel to and from Europe are growing by the day as confirmed cases of Covid-19 escalate in the country. 

With over 1 000 deaths recorded in Italy, and well over 150 000 infected, the whole of Italy is in lockdown, except for food stores, pharmacies, and banks. All other shops, businesses, and places where people gather are closed. 

There were 800 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK as of Saturday. Spain confirmed more than 1 500 new cases of coronavirus between Friday and Saturday, raising its total to 5 757 cases, the second highest number in Europe after Italy. 

“Just as the US has done, our government must clamp down hard and fast on the Covid-19 virus and urgently suspend flights from Italy, which is now considered the epicentre of the virus, the UK, and other European countries.

“We can only hope that at today’s Cabinet meeting, which will discuss what actions to take to combat Covid-19, brave and correct decisions will be taken,” specialist doctor Johan Cillie told Independent Media on Saturday. 

“We should learn from China as they took all the necessary measures to keep citizens indoors in affected cities, closed schools, and banned travel. As a result they now have no new confirmed cases, indicating that they are succeeding in the fight against the coronavirus.” 

Cillie who has been a specialist doctor for 45 years, is concerned about the fact that government has not banned large gatherings which would potentially result in large numbers of infections. 

“More than a million people are expected to converge at the annual ZCC gathering in Moria at Easter time, and this could prove disastrous. Many of those going to Moria are working-class people.”

As the number of reported cases in the country keeps going up, from the reported 24 on Friday to 38 at the time of publication, a health workers’ union warned the outbreak had spiralled out of control, alleging the Department of Health was failing to trace patients and that was starting to put the lives of nurses and doctors at risk.

According to Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU) president Lerato Madumo-Gova, the union got information of nurses from a clinic in Sedibeng who came in contact with a person who was confirmed to have the virus.

“The patient went to the clinic and was referred to a hospital but at the hospital, the patient was discharged and was told it’s just minor flu. They came again and said they were in contact with a person from Italy and were having the symptoms,” she said.  

Madumo-Gova said the union was calling on the government to close borders in order to adequately deal with the matter, failing which, they would be withdrawing their members from the front line. 

South Africa’s former ambassador to Italy Shirish Soni returned to the country from Rome on Friday to find there were no checks whatsoever at the airport for people coming from Italy. 

“At the Cape Town airport they were only interested in passengers travelling from China and surrounding countries. I walked back to the official and said I was coming from Italy. She repeated they were only interested in people coming from China and surrounding countries,” Soni said. 

“Perhaps our officials at points of entry into South Africa should receive a joint news briefing and be updated on what areas abroad are the worst affected before they start their shift.”

Many restaurateurs seem unprepared and not fully aware of how the virus is spread and how to protect themselves and their workers. 

“I didn’t know the virus can be spread through surfaces, I thought the virus was only spread through coughing and sneezing,” one restaurant owner in Pretoria East said on Saturday. 

According to Mediclinic’s advisory in the country, the virus is spread when someone coughs or sneezes and you are standing within two metres of them. 

It also spreads when droplets land on surfaces such as tables, door handles or any other surface and can remain on surfaces for seven to nine days if not cleaned adequately. Once you touch the surface and touch your face you could become infected. Doctors recommend people stay at home as long as possible.

However, economist Mike Schussler said closing the borders and ordering a shutdown will have severe economic consequences but if that is what it takes to gain control of the situation, then it must happen.


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