Two South Africans infected on coronavirus-hit Japanese cruise ship

Two South African crew members working on a Japanese cruise ship have tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus.

This is according to a department of health statement, which says the government was made aware of the situation by Japanese authorities through the South African embassy in Tokyo.

The Princess Diamond cruise ship, on which 10 other South Africans were working, is the same one from which 300 American passengers were airlifted earlier this month.

The two South Africans are being treated in Japan and the latest reports indicate that they are currently asymptomatic.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has also confirmed that it received a report about the two South Africans who have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. 

“We note the two South Africans who tested positive for the Covid-19 in Japan. We confirm that these citizens are in good care and being treated in Japan. Dirco [department of international relations and co-operation] and the department of health are in constant contact with the individuals and the Japanese authorities,” they said.

“The institute also welcomes the decision by the honourable President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, to repatriate South African citizens from Wuhan city in Hubei province, China. The detailed logistics are being finalised, and the NICD is preparing to support the initiative in collaboration with all other involved government departments to ensure the containment of the virus,” said their statement.

Dr Kerrigan McCarthy, also from the institute, said: “To date there have been no confirmed cases of the Covid-19 in South Africa. The NICD continues to test for possible cases. 133 people have been tested; 89 of them met the case definition for persons under investigation as of February 28. We continue monitoring trends of Covid-19 globally and in the African region to improve our knowledge of the disease [and] to enhance our response and surveillance.”

Evacuation for South African citizens

The news comes in the wake of a statement by the presidency confirming that President Cyril Ramaphosa has directed the repatriation of 132 South Africans from Wuhan in Hubei province, China, “following several requests from the families of South Africans in the city”.

The Mail & Guardian broke the news of the evacuation of South Africans from Wuhan on Wednesday night.

According to the department of health statement, the Princess Diamond cruise ship arrived in the Japanese port of Yokohama with 3 700 people on board. On February 1, it was announced that a patient who had disembarked in Hong Kong on January 25 had tested positive for coronavirus. This began a quarantine period on board the ship, which officially ended on February 19.  

“It was only at the end of the quarantine that the South African government was alerted of the 12 South Africans who were amongst the crew members on board the ship,” the statement reads.

The statement adds: “The cruise ship represents a unique situation in that a large number of people found themselves exposed to Covid-19 in a confined space, leading to the highest rate of infection in the world. At this stage, it is most appropriate that the Covid-19 confirmed South African citizens should be treated in Japan until they are fully recovered from the virus and are no longer contagious before they travel further.”

According to the statement, the remaining 10 South Africans will be allowed to disembark the ship after they test negative for coronavirus. They will then be subjected to a further 14-day quarantine in Japan, then tested again to determine if they may be cleared for travel.

“South Africa will continue to monitor the situation closely and maintain contact with the government of Japan in order to keep the public informed,” the statement said.

Following the presidency’s statement about the repatriation of South Africans from Wuhan, Dirco spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele told the M&G that a detailed plan regarding the evacuation will be revealed by the end of today.

“It is just a matter of time; the likelihood is we will hold a media briefing on Sunday. We are just finalising some small loose ends. We are trying to make sure all the relevant ministers will be available. We will let people know, about which airplane will it be, when it is landing and what will be done once those South Africans get here. We will be working hand in hand with the China [consulate] in doing this,” he said.

The statement from the presidency said: “The government has been in constant communication with the families of all affected individuals and relevant departments have made the necessary arrangements to receive them.”

In a statement, the Chinese embassy in South Africa said the decision by the president is “understandable to address the anxiety and concern of its citizens and families resulting from over one month of quarantine in a city far away from their motherland”.

“We highly appreciate the kind understanding, firm support and strong solidarity from the SA government, parties, media and people from all walks of life, and President Ramaphosa himself in particular at the critical juncture of China’s fight against the Covid-19 epidemic,” the statement reads. 

“We would also like to express our gratitude to all the SA citizens and students now in China, including those who are about to be evacuated back to SA, for their understanding, co-operation, support, sacrifice and contributions to our effective control and prevention efforts against the epidemic in China. Their friendship, brotherhood and solidarity at this difficult time has been tested and will always be cherished by the Chinese government and people.”

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is an Open Society Fellow in Investigative Reporting at Wits University. Currently spending six months with the Mail and Guardian in the Investigations desk. He started journalism with Independent Media’s vernacular publication, I’solezwe LesiXhosa in East London. He has freelanced for publications such as GroundUp and Workers World Media.
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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