South Africa remains on high alert for Coronavirus

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

South Africa remains on high alert for the Coronavirus, which has claimed the lives of 106 people in China.

Briefing the media on the country’s preparedness to detect, manage and contain any threat of the Coronavirus from entering the country, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the country stands ready should there be an outbreak.

“As the Department of Health, we wish to assure the public that South Africa is adequately prepared for active surveillance, early detection, isolation, case management, contact tracing and prevention of the onward spread of coronavirus,” Minister Mkhize said on Wednesday.

The Charlotte Maxeke, Steve Biko, and Tembisa hospitals are the three facilities that have been prepared to receive potential Coronavirus cases.

To date, South Africa has no reported or suspected cases of Coronavirus.

While research into the virus is ongoing, the disease is suspected to originate from animals but evidence suggests that it is spread by human to human contact.

On 31 December 2019, the China World Health Organization (WHO) office reported a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.

The cause was confirmed as a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).


According to the WHO, the incubation period is about two to 10 days, although some literature suggests 14 days.

“More evidence is needed to determine if asymptomatic patients are contagious, although preliminary evidence suggests that like Ebola, all the contacts reported were patients who had symptoms,” said the Minister.

Symptoms of novel coronavirus are fever and cough with a few patients presenting with difficulty in breathing and bilateral infiltrates on chest X-rays.

With a suspected case closer to South African shores in Zambia, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) is closely monitoring the situation.

Travel advice

On Monday, South Africa published travel advice based on WHO recommendations that take into consideration all factors that determine the level of threat on a particular territory.

 “The guidelines have not recommended any restrictions on travel or trade but it has recommended that non-essential travel to Wuhan city or Hubei Province, should be avoided or postponed. Prospective travellers can monitor the situation and plan their travel accordingly,” the Minister said.

Wuhan City is currently under quarantine with five million citizens evacuated from the city. Chinese authorities have closed all public transport entering and leaving Wuhan and other areas in Hubei Province.

Response teams

In response to the outbreak, South Africa has put measures in place to respond to potential cases.

A hotline has been set up at NICD to field questions from clinicians. South Africa has also developed and distributed clinical guidelines and case definitions to nurses and doctors, which include information on how to diagnose and respond to a possible 2019-nCoV case. 

Provinces have activated outbreak response teams while the screening of returning travellers from China have been intensified.

Port health officials routinely conducted thermal screening.

“As a department, it is standard procedure to monitor emergent outbreaks and we are currently tracking a plethora of pathogens that include those viruses of pandemic potential like H5-N1 and we therefore wish to reassure that Coronavirus is no exception,” said Mkhize.

An emergency committee meeting convened on Wednesday, 22 January, by the WHO concluded that although developments in China were concerning, it is still too early to declare a public health emergency of international concern. –