South Africa: NICD Keeps Watch Over Coronavirus Outbreak

People wear face masks as they wait at China's Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport arrivals.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says while the risk of imported novel (new) coronavirus remains low, it is conducting active surveillance to identify any potential imported cases.

The novel coronavirus - a type of pneumonia - behind the outbreak in China has not previously been identified in people, even though coronaviruses are nothing new. They are a big group of viruses that cause illnesses such as the common cold and gastrointestinal infections. More recent diseases caused by coronaviruses include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

"There is no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission. There are no direct flights from Wuhan to South Africa, however, it is possible that individuals could travel to South Africa from Wuhan via other countries," said the NICD.

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organisation's China office reported a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, Hubei Province in China. The cause was confirmed as a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

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

According to the NICD, treatment is supportive, as no specific therapy has been shown to be effective.

As of 21 January 2020, a total of 270 cases were confirmed, including at least four deaths in Wuhan City.

In addition, 21 cases in other cities have been reported in China and four cases outside China.

The majority of the cases from Wuhan were linked to a seafood, poultry and live wildlife market in Jianghan District, Hubei Province.

"This suggests that the novel coronavirus has a possible zoonotic origin," said the NICD.

The cases reported from outside Wuhan either had links to Wuhan, or patients had contact with a sick person in Wuhan, or worked or visited a market in Wuhan.

"There is evidence of limited person-to-person transmission among close contacts of infected people and 15 cases have been identified among healthcare workers in China," said the NICD.

WHO's Emergency Committee on 2019-nCoV is scheduled to meet on 22 January 2020 to determine the international public health implications of this outbreak.

"The outcome of that meeting will direct the global response strategy," said the NICD.

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