President Cyril Ramaphosa has called a special Cabinet meeting to address the South African government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak.
This comes as the confirmed number of people who have been diagnosed with the disease now stands at 17 — with that number expected to increase.
Ramaphosa is also expected to hold meetings with leaders of political parties and religious organisations after the special Cabinet meeting at the weekend. The move illustrates the magnitude of the public health crisis, which the World Health Organisation has now classified as a global pandemic.
Meanwhile the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) team and South African Airways crew, who departed earlier this week to repatriate 122 South Africans from Wuhan, China are expected back in the country on Friday.
According to Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, earlier this week there were 199 South Africans in Wuhan. But that number has since dropped, with some people deciding not to return home.
“Upon their return, they will be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days to a maximum of 21 days. During this period, the movement of people and goods in and out of the quarantine zone will be restricted,” Mthembu said.
“We strongly caution people against attempting to make any physical contact or attempting to visit the quarantine zone. One the quarantine period ends, and tests confirm no underlying Covid-19 virus infection of our compatriots, they will be released back into their respective communities.”
But Mthembu said the location of the quarantine site will not be divulged. This is to guard the safety of the people in quarantine, as well as the general public.
The minister would also not confirm whether the plane would be landing at a civilian airport or a military air-force base.
“I am as blank as you are [about where the site is]. But naturally, we don’t want people to flock there. It won’t even be good for the people who are there. Why would we advertise where this place is? It would defeat the purpose of quarantine if we were to tell everybody,” he said.
But the government has confirmed the transportation of the returning South Africans will be managed by the country’s security services. Mthembu said: “Only the president can make the call to repatriate. The decision to repatriate means you need our security establishment in charge. It goes without saying [that] our soldiers and police will be there.”
The government says the returning South Africans pose no risk to public safety, but that all precautions will be taken.
“All the South Africans coming home are healthy. They haven’t contracted anything. So no one should think we are bringing sick people home. We are bringing home our kids. We removed them because they and their parents have asked to bring them home. Not because they are sick. They are as healthy as you and me,” Mthembu said.