Coronavirus: Is South Africa at risk?

Since the first reported case of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, on 31 December 2019, the world has anticipated a pandemic. In January 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the deadly disease a public health emergency of international concern. As of 25 February, 80 239 cases have been confirmed globally, including 2459 cases outside of China across 33 countries. There have been 2666 deaths in China alone and 34 outside of China.

Although WHO identified South Africa among nations especially at risk, as well as a priority zone for containing the spread of Novel Coronavirus, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) states that there are no confirmed cases in South Africa thus far. Measures have been put in place to detect, test, manage and contain any cases of the virus.

According to the WHO, travel or trade to and from China should not be inhibited. South Africa has taken precautionary measures and designated 300 port health authorities to complete temperature screenings for all travellers, especially those from China and other Asian countries, at OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airports. These are the only ports of entry with direct flights from Asia. The Health Department will call in the South African military services for additional support if need be.

The South Africans postal service also no longer accepts packages from China as a precautionary measure.

National and provincial response teams have been set up, should an outbreak occur in South Africa. The Health Department activated an emergency operation centre on 31 January 2020 with staff working exclusively on the coronavirus. Tests and diagnoses of the virus have already been completed for South Africa, as well as other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Suspected cases have tested negative.

Eleven hospitals nationwide have been earmarked as treatment centres for positively diagnosed patients. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize states that the designated hospitals will be able to isolate, manage and contain suspected or confirmed cases of the virus adequately. Other hospitals should be able to manage suspected cases, but positively diagnosed patients from these facilities will be transferred to the designated hospitals to contain the virus and centralise data collection.

There is no specific antiviral treatment at this stage. Treatment is only supportive. However, there may be comfort in the fact that, according to Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, there has been no evidence of mutations since its discovery in humans as this may hinder the development process of a preventative vaccine.

It is highly advised to contact a healthcare professional immediately if exposure to the virus is suspected. A 24-hour hotline has been set up at the NICD to field questions from healthcare professionals.

It would, therefore, seem that though South Africa has no confirmed cases of Novel Coronavirus to date, that that the country is prepared should an outbreak of the virus occur.

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