South Africa: Update On Repatriation of SA Citizens in China

Graphic illustrating the economic impact of COVID-19.

Government is in the process of identifying facilities that will accommodate South Africans who will be repatriated from China, says Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

"We can confirm that government is currently sourcing suitable accommodation facilities all over the country. The process is now almost concluded. This includes hotels, game reserves and resorts in remote areas," said the Minister in a statement on Saturday.

Mkhize said government has in the past three weeks, been in consultations with stakeholders in the hospitality industry and all spheres of government.

The consultations he said, were held with the view to identify suitable accommodation facilities for South African citizens who will be repatriated from Wuhan City, in China. Located in Hubei Province, the city is the epicentre of the Coronavirus in China.

About 151 South Africans --who are currently living under lockdown conditions following the outbreak of the Coronavirus-- will be repatriated.

"We wish to reiterate that none of the affected individuals have been diagnosed with the virus nor have they exhibited any symptoms thereof," said the Minister.

Last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the repatriation of South African citizens from Wuhan. Cabinet decided on this course of action after due consideration of the circumstances, and following several requests from the families of South Africans in the city.

Earlier this week, the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJOINTS) announced that an aircraft with the capacity to bring back citizens from China, has been secured.

Quarantine and the viewing of facilities

"As an added precautionary measure, it was decided that upon arrival in South Africa, these citizens will be placed in quarantine," said the Minister.

In addition the viewing of various facilities has been underway.

"Once a decision is made to select specific facilities has been made, further consultations with stakeholders including leaders of society and communities at large will be undertaken," said the Minister.

The Department of Health assured the public that the quarantine facility will have very strict military security parameters. These are some of the measures that will be put in place to ensure that communities that live nearby such a facility are not in any way exposed and there is no contact with people who will be under quarantined.

Meanwhile the department has requested all facilities it has engaged with over the last three weeks to desist from engaging with the media as this may prejudice government's planning and compromise security measures meant for local communities as well as citizens who will occupy the accommodation.

"The welfare of all of our people both in the country and those that are in Wuhan is of priority to us. We will continue to work towards strategies that are aimed at protecting our own, during this outbreak."

Access to information

Mkhize expressed appreciation to the members of the media who have fulfilled their duties while exercising restraint, to allow for government to fulfil its duty to its citizens.

The Minister further urged media to be sensitive in their reporting adding that information that may be prematurely disclosed by the media without being released or confirmed by government may be disruptive. The release of such information he said, could be disruptive to operations, planning processes and implementation strategies that government is working on.

"We have committed to being transparent, keep the media and the public fully informed on all relevant information. We will not renege on this commitment," he said.

Government remains committed to minimising the spread of the virus.

Confirmation of a second case of the Coronavirus

The Minister's comments come following his earlier confirmation of South Africa's second case of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

A Gauteng woman tested positive for the virus.

The 39-year-old is a direct contact of the unnamed 38-year-old KwaZulu-Natal man who tested positive for Coronavirus earlier this week.

The two were part of a group of 10 people who had travelled to Italy.

The group arrived back in South Africa on 1 March 2020.

The woman, said the Minister on Saturday, would be treated at a public health facility in Gauteng that government has identified as one of the hospitals that are ready to receive COVID-19 positive patients.

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