/ 31 March 2020

South African traveller admitted to intensive care in Germany after positive Covid-19 test

Concentration: A heart surgeon performing an operation. Three hospital groups dominate private healthcare in SA.
A South African thought to be in his 60s, who is part of a group of elderly travellers stuck in Frankfurt, Germany, has been admitted to hospital there after testing positive for Covid-19. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

A South African thought to be in his 60s, who is part of a group of elderly travellers stuck in Frankfurt, Germany, has been admitted to hospital there after testing positive for Covid-19

The Cape Town man, whose name is known to the Mail & Guardian but won’t be published without his permission, had his positive test results returned on Monday, and was admitted to the intensive care unit at a nearby hospital. 

He is part of a group of 16 South Africans who were on a cruise from Brazil to Europe and arrived on land — in Lisbon, Portugal on March 27 — the same day that South Africa’s lockdown began. 

“They had to intubate him. He is stable as far as we know,” said one of the travellers, Clair Oxley-Oxland.

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The group has been holed up and self-isolating in an airport hotel after finding out that their return flights home were cancelled, one of the group said on Tuesday morning. 

The group was aboard the MSC Fantasia, which departed Rio De Janeiro on March 6 and docked at five other Brazilian ports before hitting international waters on March 12. It  was meant to dock in more than 20 ports in Europe before arriving at its final destination Rome, Italy on May 31.

Because all their return flights were cancelled, the group was transported to Frankfurt by MSC Cruises. The cruise company has booked them accommodation until April 1, and it has been liaising with the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) on their behalf.

The 16 South Africans in this group are just a few of the more than 1 000 South Africans stranded in foreign countries who are receiving little or no help from our embassies abroad. Officials stationed at embassies in countries where — like South Africa — there are lockdowns or restricted movement are working from home instead of at their offices. 

Stranded around the globe

The M&G is in contact with people in London, Frankfurt and Cusco, Peru and some people have spoken about the uncertainty that the lack of information creates. 

Manfred Habeck, who is in London, said: “Personally, me and a colleague are okay for now, but I think some others — not so much. A bunch at the YMCA is being looked after by awesome local South Africans [with] food [et cetera] … “But there have been positive cases at the YMCA, albeit not the [South Africans].”

The news of the positive test in Germany comes as Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula provided an update on efforts to evacuate foreign nationals stranded in South Africa because of the lockdown on Tuesday afternoon. Mbalula announced that new directives from the Covid-19 National Command Council now allow for certain categories of international passenger and technical flights to depart and land. 

This includes flights to evacuate foreign nationals stranded in South Africa, as well as flights to repatriate about 1 471 South Africans stuck in foreign countries. Mbalula said South Africans may be allowed to return, provided they pay their own way and allow themselves to be subjected to a quarantine period of up to 21 days.   

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor said the government is doing everything it can to help South Africans stranded overseas. Earlier, spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said that the department is busy assessing how many South Africans are stranded around the globe, and is looking at providing consular services to them. 

Oxley-Oxland said: “The lockdown came into effect 23 days after we left home on [March 4]. As far as I know, we haven’t had any assistance from the [South African] embassy in Germany or Dirco so far, but they are aware of our presence here. MSC has been paying for us until now. I think they were in negotiations with the embassy on our behalf.

“As soon as we bought tickets, the airlines cancelled one by one. We are all South Africans in our 60s. We are currently in Frankfurt at an airport hotel. MSC flew us to Frankfurt and have put us up at a hotel until tomorrow. Then I don’t know what we will do,” Oxley-Oxland added. “We have received a WhatsApp from MSC South Africa saying they are doing everything they can and will not leave us in the lurch.”