Families will not be allowed to visit those repatriated from China during quarantine

84 sites identified as quarantine zones in SA

01 March 2020 - 11:31 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
Dr Zweli Mkhize. File photo.
Dr Zweli Mkhize. File photo.
Image: Simphiwe Nkwali

South Africans being repatriated from the coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan in China will be treated with dignity inside a quarantine zone once back on home soil — guarded by the military.

Families and other visitors will not be allowed to visit during the 21-day quarantine period, said health minister Zweli Mkhize.

“The very nature of the quarantine exercise is to isolate a group of COVID negative people who have been exposed to a high risk environment, remove them from that high risk environment, and then allow the determined incubation period to lapse before being integrated into society. Human contact and mixing of groups will be limited in the entire process,” Mkhize told a briefing in Johannesburg on Sunday.

There is as yet no final number for the South Africans who want to join the precautionary evacuation, which is expected to take place within seven to 10 days.

The details of where they will be housed is also not yet public knowledge. The Sunday Times reported this would be a resort in the Free State province.

An inter-ministerial media conference was held on March 01 2020 near OR Tambo International airport amid growing concerns around the spread of the coronavirus in Africa. Minister of health Zweli Mkhize led the panel discussion which confirmed that a repatriation mission to bring South Africans home will begin within the next 7 to 10 days.

Said Mkhize: “We have been able to ascertain that there are approximately 199 South Africans living in Wuhan.”

Between 147 and 151 may be repatriated.

Said Mkhize: “Amongst these are students who have completed studies and students whose studies were interrupted by the lockdown.”

He added 16 citizens had indicated they did not wish to return to SA. There was also a SA citizen who elected to be repatriated with Indian citizens who were recently evacuated by the government of India.

Mkhize, addressing a briefing by the interministerial committee assigned to deal with the repatriation and quarantine of citizens from Wuhan, explained that the SA citizens would be quarantined when they arrive back in the country.

He said 84 sites had been identified as quarantine zones.

“The requirements are that there will be a perimeter line monitored by the military. It will be a no-entry zone. Those who are under quarantine will not be allowed to leave the area.”

Within the perimeter, the area will be declared a no-entry zone and a no-flight zone.

Those under quarantine will not be allowed to leave but will be allowed to move freely within the perimeter, though authorities will discourage group meetings.

No family members, friends or associates of those under quarantine may visit the zone.

There will be a “no-man's land” strip to accommodate the collection of goods. Zero contact will be allowed between the deliverers and the collectors.

“Legal action will be taken against any individual that goes against the stipulated regulations in relation to quarantine,” Mkhize warned.

When the quarantine period is over and the citizens have tested negative to the coronavirus, they will receive final counselling and be granted leave to evacuate the area.

He stressed that the South Africans coming back from China had tested negative. “The people we are bringing back have tested negative. We are taking precautionary measures. They are not infected.” If any did test positive, the citizens would be sent to a designated hospital, Mkhize said.

So far, no-one inside SA has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mkhize said as at February 26, 121 people had been tested for coronavirus and all the results were negative.

Two South Africans on board a cruise ship in Japan have tested positive, and are receiving treatment there.

The SA government team reiterated on Sunday that capacity had been boosted at ports of entry to be able to screen incoming passengers, especially those from China and other affected countries, and that tertiary institutions had been prepared to be referral centres for the isolation and management of any COVID-19 patients.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the planned evacuation of SA citizens from Wuhan last week, saying, “cabinet has decided on this course of action after due consideration of the circumstances, and after several requests from the families of South Africans in the city”.

“These compatriots are now living under lockdown conditions after the outbreak of the coronavirus. None of the affected individuals has been diagnosed with the virus nor have they exhibited any symptoms thereof. Upon arrival in SA, they will be placed in quarantine for 21 days as an additional precautionary measure.”

Ramaphosa said the departments of health and defence would deploy health care personnel and supporting staff to provide assistance during the repatriation and quarantine processes. The department of international relations & cooperation would deploy consular services personnel and the home affairs department would provide immigration services. In addition, the department of social development would offer trauma counselling and support.

The COVID-19 virus (coronavirus), was first reported in Wuhan, China, in November 2019.