Here are the opening remarks by health minster Dr Zweli Mkhize at a briefing at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg on Wednesday:
The department of health wishes to assure the public that South Africa is adequately prepared for active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of coronavirus infection, and to share full data with the World Health Organisation (WHO). South Africa has no reported or suspected cases to date.
Research into the epidemiology and natural history of the virus is ongoing. Although the origin of the disease in Wuhan City, China, is suspected to be zoonotic (that is of animal origin), evidence suggests that current spread is from human to human. According to the WHO the incubation period is about two to10 days, though some literature has cited up to 14 days. More evidence is needed to determine if asymptomatic patients are contagious, although the preliminary evidence suggests that, like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and Ebola, all the contacts reported were patients who had symptoms.
Typically, patients present with flu-like symptoms and cough. The disease can be complicated by shortness of breath, multi-organ failure and death. Most fatalities reported were elderly people or persons with pre-existing co-morbidities, suggesting that these are the population groups that are most at risk. Contrary to some media reports there is no evidence that the genotype of the organism is mutating — the virus still looks the same now as the first one isolated in December.
The department is aware of the cases that have emerged in countries outside China and is closely tracking the movements of the virus. The numbers change rapidly and so I may quote something now only to find that the numbers have changed as we speak. Closer to our shores we are aware that there is a suspected case under investigation in Zambia — the NICD is closely monitoring that situation. We will shortly invite Prof Cheryl Cohen from this institute to elaborate in more detail how the institute is tracking the numbers and how it keeps the public and stakeholders informed. You will also have an opportunity to walk through the Emergency Operating Centre straight after this briefing, where you will be able to see for yourselves the hard work and expertise that goes into responding to a disease outbreak that could be potentially pandemic.
On January 27 we published travel advice based on the WHO recommendations: these take into consideration all factors which determine the level of threat to a particular territory. The guidelines have not recommended any restriction on travel and trade, but it is 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. Our understanding is that, currently, Wuhan City is essentially quarantined and 5-million citizens have been evacuated. Chinese authorities have closed all public transport entering and leaving Wuhan and other areas in Hubei province.
South Africa has responded rapidly to ensure that the coronavirus does not become a national threat. As a department it is standard procedure to monitor emergent outbreaks and we are currently tracking a plethora of pathogens, including those viruses of pandemic potential, like H5N1. We wish to reassure that coronavirus is no exception. In the recent past we have effectively responded to public health issues such as the Ebola virus outbreak that is currently ongoing in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In regard to coronavirus, due to the rapidly evolving situation in China, the multi-sectoral national outbreak response team (MNORT) was reconvened on 24 January 2020. MNORT comprises the WHO, national departments such as home affairs, agriculture, international relations, tourism and representatives of the private health sector. At the meeting an incidence management system (IMS) was set up, with the key roles and responsibilities identified, and named responsible officials attached to each key functional area.
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SOURCE: TMG DIGITAL