The SAA plane carrying 122 South Africans repatriated from Wuhan at the airport in Polokwane, Limpopo. Picture: Itumeleng English / African News Agency / ANA
The SAA plane carrying 122 South Africans repatriated from Wuhan at the airport in Polokwane, Limpopo. Picture: Itumeleng English / African News Agency / ANA

122 SA-Wuhan repatriates have landed in Polokwane

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Mar 14, 2020

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South Africans who have been holed up in Wuhan, China, as a result of Covid-19 touched down at Polokwane's Gateway Airport on Saturday, just before 11am. 

It has been confirmed that they will be kept in quarantine for the next three weeks at the Ranch Resort in Limpopo. Visuals from Polokwane on Saturday showed some of the repatriates being loaded onto busses at the airport. 

Officials at the airport were seen wearing protective gear and ambulances circled the area.

On Friday, as final preparations were put in place, the resort was in total lockdown and heavily guarded.

The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic on Friday topped 5000 worldwide with Europe the new epicentre of the crisis.

In South Africa, there are officially 24 confirmed cases; 10 in Gauteng, 10 in KZN, 3 in the Western Cape and 1 in Mpumalanga.

Newly confirmed cases include four in Gauteng; a woman, 39, who travelled to Switzerland and Austria; a man, 50, who had travelled to Austria; a man, 57, who had travelled to Switzerland; and, a woman, 21, who had travelled to Italy. These countries are among the top 10 most-affected by the aggressive novel virus.

Paul Shearer, general manager of the well-known Ranch Hotel and Resort, 25km south of Polokwane, confirmed that was approached by the authorities to be the country’s first quarantine centre and will host the 122 South Africans returning on a chartered flight from China today.

“Some of our hotel staff have agreed to continue working during the quarantine period and we applaud their decision to stay and help.”

The decision to work was voluntary.

The resort was chosen because of its excellent facilities, and it is quite isolated. Previous talks with the Black Mountain Lodge in the Free State failed.

Media personnel at the Polokwane international airport waiting for a plane carrying a group of 122 South Africans who are returning from coronavirus-hit Wuhan, China, the group will be then be quarantine at the Protea Hotel's The Ranch Resort. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Police Minister Bheki Cele said the precinct and road leading to the resort would remain a no-go area for the public and the media. Even family members would not be allowed to enter.

The government has reiterated that none of the repatriates have tested positive for coronavirus, but was keeping them isolated as a precaution before allowing them to reintegrate into society. They had been in lockdown in Wuhan since January.

One of these is Amy Pittaway, 24, a teacher who moved to China last year.

She said last week that when the Chinese government started shutting facilities down, it was quite frightening, and as friends and colleagues were evacuated to their home countries, South Africans waited in hope.

Living in isolation did strange things to the mind, she told Independent Media last week. Leaving, she said, was “more a case of my mental health and stability and having a date of being free, rather than the uncertainty that tomorrow there might be a new case”.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Thursday that the government had signed an agreement with the The Ranch after looking at 84 other possible sites. Eventually, it was narrowed down to three that were close to landing strips and would be most comfortable for those returning, he said.

The Ranch is part of the Protea Hotel group, and is a well established 150 bedroom 4-star hotel situated in a 1 000ha nature conservancy.

Media personnel at the Polokwane international airport waiting for a plane carrying a group of 122 South Africans who are returning from coronavirus-hit Wuhan, China, the group will be then be quarantine at the Protea Hotel's The Ranch Resort.
Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
Media personnel at the Polokwane international airport waiting for a plane carrying a group of 122 South Africans who are returning from coronavirus-hit Wuhan, China, the group will be then be quarantine at the Protea Hotel's The Ranch Resort. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

According to its website, it has numerous conference and banqueting venues, three restaurants, a bar lounge, playground and four swimming pools - with two of them heated - a gym, 12-hole par 3 golf course, two multi- purpose sports fields, an air strip and helipad, and on-site spa.

However, those returning will remain in their rooms and not be able to have physical contact with their families until the quarantine is over.

Staff at the resort were given the choice to stay off work for three weeks but those who do work, will receive appropriate protective clothing and a risk allowance and medical assistance, should it be necessary. Some local residents have expressed concern that they may be exposed to the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international dimensions, and the biggest concerns now are around the virus entering countries with weak health systems.

Jack Bloom, Gauteng’s spokesperson for health, said he was concerned that an already overburdened health system might force medical personnel to make difficult life and death decisions over who to treat.

Bloom said that already hospitals around the country had a shortage of ICU beds and ventilators. First, he said that elective surgeries would have to be delayed, as medical personnel tackle the corona virus. Another concern was protecting health care professions from getting the virus.

IOL

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