WHO South Africa set up emergency Coronavirus operation centres
Photo Credit: CDC

There are no confirmed cases on the continent yet but fears grow the deadly disease will reach countries with weak health systems.


South Africa (4 February 2020) – The Health Department has activated an emergency operations centre to deal with the global outbreak of the Coronavirus.

“The emergency centre was activated on the 31 January 2020 and is now currently operational. We are busy building up the staff numbers but from last night, activities have started,” said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize as he detailed the country’s response to the outbreak on Friday.

This follows the declaration by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the Coronavirus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on Thursday. The declaration comes in the wake of 170 people losing their lives to the virus that was first identified in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China.

“The Coronavirus is zoonotic, meaning it is transmitted between animals and people. Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. There is no specific antiviral treatment of the virus. Treatment remains supportive and there is no vaccine for the virus.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) first became aware of the respiratory disease of unknown cause on 31 December 2019. On 7 January 2020, a positive pathogen was identified which is known as the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

The total number of confirmed cases in China stands at 20,438 as of Tuesday morning, an increase of 3,235 on the previous day — an over 18% jump. The death toll is now at 425 in China, an increase of around 65 from Sunday.

Outside of China, the prevalence of the virus remains far lower, but more than 185 cases have been reported in over two dozen countries and territories. Two people have died outside mainland China since the outbreak began. One in the Philippines, and another in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong, which reported on Tuesday that a 39-year-old man who had travelled to Wuhan last month had died.

Activation of the operations centre on South African shores means that there are dedicated staff working exclusively on the Coronavirus. In addition to the operations centre, the department announced the following hospitals as centres for isolation and treatment of people infected with Coronavirus:

  • Polokwane Hospital in Limpopo
  • Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mpumalanga
  • Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Steve Biko Hospital and Tembisa Hospitals in Gauteng
  • Grace Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal
  • Klerksdorp Hospital in the North West
  • Kimberly Hospital in the Northern Cape
  • Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State
  • Livingstone Hospital in the Eastern Cape
  • Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape

These centres have been chosen for their ability to isolate, manage, contain and conduct research on suspected or confirmed cases of Coronavirus but this by no means suggests that other facilities do not have the ability to manage a suspected case that presents for the first time. It is simply a mechanism to ensure that we can centralise coordination and data collection.

“Every hospital should be able to manage it and then move them on to where we treat them centrally,” said the Minister.

Mkhize said the 24-hotline set up at the NICD to field questions from clinicians on the outbreak has also experienced high call volumes – demonstrating a high vigilance among healthcare workers.

“You will understand that when you have a situation of this nature even ordinary flu is treated with suspicion. We actually expect that just out of vigilance the number of people calling will increase. We believe that it is better to always over suspect than under diagnose,” he said.

In the past 24 hours, 14 samples were submitted to the National Health Laboratory Services for testing of the Coronavirus – all of which tested negative.

SA beefs up surveillance at ports

Apart from digital thermal screeners, port health officials have also been provided with additional handheld thermometers to detect the temperature of any traveller arriving into the country.

The Health Department has also requested support from the South African Military Health Services to boost manpower at the various ports of entry where additional support is needed.

Sources: World Health Organisation | SA Government News 
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