The department of health has announced that port health authorities have enhanced surveillance for all travellers from Asia, especially China, following an outbreak of coronavirus in the country.
OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is the only port of entry for direct flights from Asia, the department said on Thursday, adding that measures had been put in place owing to the current risk that the virus could be imported to South Africa.
Meanwhile, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported on Thursday that there had been no cases of the novel coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, identified in the country.
“As of January 23, there have been no cases of the 2019-nCoV in South Africa or on the African continent,” the NICD said in a statement.
The NICD said together with the national department of health it had developed and distributed clinical guidelines and case definitions for doctors and nurses in both the public and private sectors to better detect, identify and respond to a possible 2019-nCoV case in South Africa.
This includes guidance on what samples to collect to confirm the diagnosis, as well as how to best manage the case clinically and to prevent a spread to others while the diagnosis is being made.
“Furthermore, South Africa has in place routine fever screenings at ports of entry as well as guidance documents, including case definitions and what to do should a suspected case be identified have been distributed to staff at the ports,” the NICD said.
News24 reported on Friday that Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town was being prepped “to be able to go in a space of two hours if you need to isolate a case”.
This comes as China has stepped up measures to contain the virus that has killed 25 people and infected more than 800, suspending public transport in 10 cities, shutting temples over the Lunar New Year, and rushing to construct a hospital to treat the infected.
The week-long holiday to welcome the Year of the Rat began on Friday, raising fears that the infection rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of people travel to their homes and abroad.
Not an international epidemic
WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the media following the second meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee for Pneumonia in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 23Picture: Christopher Black / WHO / Handout via Reuters
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the new coronavirus an emergency for China on Thursday, but stopped short of declaring the epidemic an international concern.
“Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
While most of the cases and all of the deaths have been in China, the virus has been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.
It is highly likely Britain has also had cases, a health official said.
At the railway station in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began last month, the few passengers who took the risk of returning home put on a brave face.
“What choice do I have? It’s Chinese New Year. We have to see our families,” said one arriving traveller named Hu.
As of Thursday there were 830 confirmed cases and 25 people had died, China’s National Health Commission confirmed.
Most cases have been in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated in a market that traded illegally in wildlife.
Preliminary research suggested that the virus crossed to humans from snakes.
Wuhan, a city with 11 million people, and neighbouring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million, were in virtual lockdown.
Rail stations were largely shut, with few trains stopping, flights suspended and checkpoints on main roads in and out.
Several airlines have suspended flights to Wuhan, while airports worldwide have stepped up their screening of passengers from China.
The previously unknown virus, which has no cure and can spread through respiratory transmission, has created alarm because there are a number of unknown variables.
It is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.
Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing.
Most of those killed by the virus were elderly, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.
Frustration with the government response appeared to be growing in Wuhan, with some fearing that it is too late.
“In the beginning they didn’t take action and hardly offered any information to the public,” a 30-year-old Wuhan resident, who declined to provide her name, told Reuters.
Three research teams are to start work on vaccines, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations said.
The plan is to have at least one in clinical trial by June.
Some experts believe that the virus is not as dangerous as the one that caused the 2002/03 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which also began in China and killed nearly 800 people, or the one that caused Middle East respiratory syndrome, which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.
– Reuters and News24