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HomeSouth AfricaFree State dorp tipped as quarantine centre for SA evacuees from China

Free State dorp tipped as quarantine centre for SA evacuees from China

The government plans to quarantine a number of South Africans who have been in China in the small Free State town of Thaba Nchu, 63km from Bloemfontein, says a Mail & Guardian report. It was learned from reliable government sources that the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) had asked the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) to assist it in the evacuation of South African citizens from China. The report says government is mum on the plan, but it is understood that senior SANDF officials visited Thaba Nchu earlier this week to assess the area for purposes of quarantine and screening people for the coronavirus. The quarantine would last for 14 days.

And a senior government official said there is a worry that the people coming from China would not be tested before leaving – with the flight thought to be landing within the next few days. The official warned: “They want to do the screening here in the country, which could be a risk.” It is unclear how many individuals will be evacuated, and where in China they will be arriving from. It is also not clear whether these people are government officials working in embassies or citizens.

The report says Dirco spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele would not be drawn into commenting on the plan about Thaba Nchu and instead gave a general response. “We are weighing all possible options available around the coronavirus in China. There are a lot of departments involved so that if anything happens we are ready as South Africa,” said Ngqengelele.

There are over 5,000 Africans currently in Wuhan, with most of them running short of cash and other basic necessities such as food and medical supplies, writes Mickey Adney, a Ghanaian postgraduate student researching environmental law and policy in the African Union in Wuhan, China in the Daily Maverick

Adney writes that this explains why most of them are demanding to be airlifted home. More than a dozen countries around the world have evacuated, or have plans to evacuate, their citizens from the virus-hit city. For instance, he writes, over 160 Moroccans were evacuated a week ago and they will be quarantined in two military hospitals for 20 days. Algeria has also flown out Algerian, Mauritanian, Tunisian and Libyan citizens.

He writes that despite evacuation emerging as the best practice, most sub-Saharan African nations have ruled out evacuating their citizens. Making derogatory statements barring Africans in China from returning home and criticising the demand for evacuation by Africans demonstrates an unbelievably shallow and myopic understanding of the situation. Instead, African governments and public health experts should follow regional guidelines and heed the appeal of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

Adney points out that the Africa CDC has appealed to African countries to allow their citizens to return home from China, including mass evacuation. The Africa CDC was established to support all African countries to improve surveillance, emergency responses, and prevention of infectious diseases. It is a specialised technical institution of the African Union (AU) serving as a platform for Member States to share knowledge and best practice, and the provision of technical assistance to each other.

Adney writes that the appeal of the Africa CDC was informed by the rejection of calls for evacuation by citizens of several African countries in Wuhan, China. For instance, several countries including Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda have been officially rejecting calls to airlift their citizens from the epicentre. The director of the Africa CDC, Dr John Nkengasong observed that “for Africans who are returning from China, we have the obligation to receive our citizens and keep them for a while and monitor them and release them into the community because as of yesterday, we started receiving reports that some countries are refusing their own citizens from coming back to the country. It cannot happen.”

Fears of the coronavirus could inflict havoc in Africa, although, Adney writes, there is only one recorded case in Egypt. Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, South Africa and Botswana have all reported suspected cases. Subsequent tests, however, proved negative.

Many African countries have poor healthcare systems and are not well prepared, however, Adney argues that Africans returning or being evacuated back home are of no threat to their countries if the evacuation protocols outlined by the WHO and the Chinese government are followed.

He says the Africa CDC should, therefore, forge a timely and responsive partnership with the Chinese authorities in order to explore how they can jointly in co-operation prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in Africa.

But Polity reports that China’s top envoy in South Africa, Ambassador Lin Songtian assured communities that the thousands of South African students studying in various Chinese institutions were protected and safe. “To date, a total of 27 out of millions of foreign nationals in China have been diagnosed with novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP), of whom three have been cured and discharged from hospitals. Two have died, and the countries have been notified. Twenty-two are receiving medical treatment…,” Songtian said.

“Among them (foreigners in China), there are more than 80,000 African students, and 5,000 of them are in Wuhan. There are about 3,000 South African students in China, including 165 in the Hubei province. So far, there has been no confirmed case of the NCP infection amongst the South African students.”

The veteran diplomat, who has previously served in numerous African countries said the diseases could be contained sooner if nations across the world would not rush to evacuate their citizens from china, as some of the evacuees could spread the deadly disease. “It is the safest, cheapest, and wise and right choice for the foreign nationals to stay in China now and to strictly follow China's prevention and control measures and instructions. It is unsafe, costly and risky for foreign nationals to fly back to their mother countries because long-distance flying is very risky. They are not bringing loyalty, but virus back to their homeland, only to bring risks and threat to the health of their family, friends and fellow countrymen,” Songtian is quoted in the report as saying.

The ambassador could not confirm the total number of South Africans living in China, but was able to provide statistics on South African students currently studying in the country, reports News24. He said there were 3,000 South African students currently in China, of whom 165 lived in Hubei province where it's believed the coronavirus outbreak started.

Songtian emphasised that there was no need for panic in South Africa and that the Chinese government had put comprehensive and rigorous measures in place to fight the virus and prevent it from spreading anywhere else, including South Africa.

He said the successes in the fight to contain the virus could be measured by the decrease in daily confirmed cases, as well as the number of those infected who had since been cured and released from hospital. He added that the coronavirus could be controlled, prevented, treated and cured by following principles of early detection, early isolation and early treatment.

Speaking about South Africa's readiness to combat a confirmed case of the virus, Songtian said the South African government was ready and that the national response system was working very well. He said there was no need to panic as South Africa was prepared if a confirmed cases was found within its borders.

Meanwhile, anonymous, writing in The Guardian says: “I got a phone call from Dr Song (not his real name) one night. He had just finished a shift at a hospital in Wuhan and was about to go back to work again. He told me it had been weeks since he had had a full night of sleep or a day off. He couldn’t remember the last time he had spent time with his family or eaten a warm meal. At work, he wraps himself in raincoats due to a lack of protective gear across the hospital. Some of his colleagues wear diapers to work to avoid having to remove their protective suits. “Just a few hours before, when a patient had died at a Wuhan hospital, family members had beaten up and severely injured two doctors. Even though he and his co-workers were working non-stop – overwhelmed, under-equipped and exhausted – they still faced a backlash from patients, many of whom he had to reject due to the lack of hospital beds. Some left disappointedly. Others abused him.

“Even now, when the virus has made 70,000 people sick and taken more than 1,700 lives, the government is still trying to hide information. Thousands of posts were deleted from the online group asking for help. I was told by editors of Chinese media outlets that I couldn’t write about anything that reflected negatively on the government.

“It is not new for figures in government to put their political interests ahead of public health. But given the rapid spread of the virus and the gravity of the situation in China, I thought the government could put aside the censorship and propaganda for a while. I was wrong.”

[link url="https://mg.co.za/article/2020-02-14-sas-quarantine-plan-for-coronavirus/"]Full Mail & Guardian report[/link]

[link url="https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2020-02-17-africa-must-co-ordinate-a-continental-response-to-coronavirus-and-evacuate-its-citizens-from-china/?tl_inbound=1&tl_groups[0]=80895&tl_period_type=3&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Business%20Maverick%20Tuesday%2018%20February%202020%20i-Store&utm_content=Business%20Maverick%20Tuesday%2018%20February%202020%20i-Store+CID_544ddb1e36eb8c94dd5213d14c5fc7b9&utm_source=TouchBasePro&utm_term=Africa%20must%20co-ordinate%20a%20continental%20response%20to%20coronavirus%20and%20evacuate%20its%20citizens%20from%20China"]Full Daily Maverick report[/link]

[link url="https://www.polity.org.za/article/thousands-of-south-african-students-safe-in-china-amidst-coronavirus-2020-02-14"]Full Polity report[/link]

[link url="https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/no-south-african-in-china-with-coronavirus-says-chinese-ambassador-20200218"]Full News24 report[/link]

[link url="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/feb/17/wuhan-china-doctors-coronavirus?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other"]Full report in The Guardian[/link]

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