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SA couple trapped in epicentre of coronavirus outbreak in China

Published Jan 26, 2020


Cape Town - An anxious Cape Town mother is panicked after her daughter and fiancé are trapped in the Chinese town of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The Chinese government has quarantined the city, where nine people have died so far, to contain the spread of the virus. Roads and other public transit has been shut down indefinitely.

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At last count more than 800 cases had been reported around the world - in Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Japan and the US. China has accounted for the highest infections.

Kuilsriver mom Simoné van Wyk, whose 24-year-old daughter Savannah de Lange is in Wuhan, is worried about the two who are unable to come home.

Van Wyk says her daughter and her fiancé were meant to leave Wuhan via Beijing on Thursday and land in South Africa on Friday afternoon. But the closure of the airport on the Thursday morning derailed that plan. De Lange spent two years teaching in the country and when her contract ended, she was meant to travel back home with her fiancé who went there for a visit.

“I’m scared and I am worried because I can’t do anything, I can’t get to her or get her out, it is a waiting game at this point,” she said.

“They are running out of food from what she is saying and who knows how long this ban will last. I want them back home where it is safe and I can see that they are okay.”

Speaking to Weekend Argus from her flat in Wuhan, China, De Lange said they had received SMS notification that not even their taxi could reach them to take them to the airport on that day as the roads were closed, effectively leaving them stranded.

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“We are stuck here until the ban is lifted,” she said.

“Unfortunately because we were leaving the Thursday evening, we had already given away most of our food and with the shops closed and not much stock left we are left with about a week’s worth of food.

“The government sends us updates to tell us not to go outside, keep wearing our masks and maintain hygiene practices. We don’t know when the roads will be open again. I’ve seen people walking outside wearing those hazmat suits; I guess they are authorities checking o see if people are adhering to the rules.”

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On Saturday the World Health Organisation’s Europe office confirmed three cases were reported in France. All three had recently travelled from Wuhan.

Patients with the virus displayed symptoms of a common cold which included a runny nose, headache, coughing, a sore throat and a fever.

Other South Africans in other regions in the country said everyone was taking the virus seriously and wearing masks.

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“All we are told is to try not to travel at this time, to avoid public places and to exercise personal hygiene,” said a 30-year-old woman in the city of Changsha.

“It’s the Chinese new year and places are normally ghost towns during this period with many people travelling to their home towns.”

Ntaoleng Lebitsa, a South African English teacher working at Aston Education School in Tianshui, the second largest city in Gansu Province in China, said she was afraid of catching the virus. She said she constantly sanitised her hands and arms and was worried that the virus had not been contained.

Lebitsa flew from the Xi’an Xianyang International Airport to Hong Kong on Tuesday for a four-day holiday. She said locals in Hong Kong wore clinical masks and masks were being handed to those without.

“People were not frantic, but had masks on,” she said. “As I was leaving Hong Kong going to Shenzhen there were body temperature scans and airport officials kept announcing that if one is feeling uneasy there were medics at all mass transit railway stops and that people should speak up if they were not feeling well.”

With Wuhan under lockdown, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation’s Clayson Monyela said not much could be done to assist anyone wishing to leave the city.

He said once the ban had been lifted, the embassy in Beijing and the consulate in Shanghai were willing to assist any South Africans who wanted to leave.


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Weekend Argus

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