Wuhan-based SA teacher tells of dreaded coronavirus outbreak
News / 1 February 2020, 12:00pm / LIAM NGOBENI and RUDZANI MATSHILI
Pretoria - While the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the globe, a South African teacher in Wuhan, the sprawling capital of Central China’s Hubei province, said life hadn’t been easy since the outbreak.
“We are on lock down so we cannot travel. I have left my apartment twice in the last two weeks and everyone is getting checked at entrances by infra-red temperature gauges; everyone has masks and gloves, and the reality of the situation really hits home,” said Roxanne Rawlins, 33, who is originally from Durban. Wuhan is the epicentre of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Rawlins this week told Jacaranda FM Breakfast with Martin Bester that she hardly left her apartment, and when she did, she felt extremely anxious.
And speaking to the Pretoria News from the Chinese city, she said the situation had not changed.
She said the main concern was that pharmacies in the area were closed, and the few that were open were running out of masks and gloves.
“The delivery services have mostly stopped and as most expats would tell you, we mostly order anything and everything online; so that’s been a great source of frustration.
“There is no public transportation All flights are grounded trains, subways, buses, taxis and didi (uber) have stopped running. These are just to mention a few.”
The language barrier, according to Rawlins, was also more frustrating right now. “We do have access to international news, but my preference would be to understand the messages going out to the Chinese people.
“There are community groups online, but we don’t know how to get onto those groups where the information is sent out about your specific area.
“We were supposed to start the new term on February 10, but it’s now unknown. Most teachers outside of China have been told to stay in their home countries until further notice.”
She said contrary to news reports from that country that 35 South Africans were in Wuhan, there was a whole community there of more than 100 people, including students.
Back home, management of Steve Biko Academic Hospital said it was ready to deal with any outbreak of the virus.
The hospital was one of the emergency operating centres - others are Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital and Tembisa Hospital - identified by Health MEC Bandile Masuku to deal with any patients that test positive of the virus.
Steve Biko head Dr Mathabo Mathebula said the facility had all that was required to take care of all kinds of patients. “We need mainly an isolation facility to prevent transmission of the virus to the other people that come into contact with the infected person.
“You also need health professionals; specialists, medical officers, nurses and trained support staff, as well as protective clothing.”
Yesterday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said: “To date, there is no confirmed case of the coronavirus in South Africa. We have the facilities to be able to confirm such a diagnosis.
“We have remained vigilant regarding the developments about the viral infection from across the world. We continue to engage academics on how to better understand this virus and how it behaves and its health effects.”
Mkhize, meanwhile, said 55 international travellers were screened at points of entry into the country and were found to have a fever. However, none of them tested positive for the coronavirus.
He also said that there was no evidence to support repatriation or emergency evacuations of South African citizens in China. “Centres have been identified for their ability to isolate, manage and contain suspected cases of the virus, as well as for research purposes. This by no means suggests that other facilities won’t be able to handle suspected cases. It is simply a mechanism to centralise information and data collection.”
Mkhize said he had also requested that all departments report if there are any South Africans in China. He said citizens who were there could ask for help from the South African Embassy.
The Department of International Relations and Co-operation has also opened a hotline to assist South Africans in China.
Travellers will meanwhile also be screened at ports of entry by port health officials for the early detection of suspect cases. This will include temperature screening. If a traveller is found to have an elevated temperature they are assessed by a nurse and if determined to be a suspect case, they are safely transported to a health facility for further management.
Special measures have been introduced at OR Tambo International Airport, where travellers on direct flights from China and have travelled to Wuhan in the past 14 days are required to complete a questionnaire for possible contact tracing.
The SANDF health officials have meanwhile been deployed to 36 points of entry to detect possible cases of the virus.