184 South Africans are stranded in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, with plans to bring them home thrown into disarray.
This is according to a report by the Sunday Times, which said the planned 21-day quarantine site where they would be taken upon return – the Black Mountain Hotel in the Free State – cancelled its agreement with the government due to “abuse of staff”.
The government said it had received reports of potential service providers being intimidated, which was making it difficult for it to organise the return of its citizens.
Black Mountain Hotel confirmed to the Sunday Times they had received threats after agreeing to act as the quarantine site – but provided no further information.
According to the report, the South Africans in Wuhan are trapped in their homes by the Chinese government’s attempts to contain the coronavirus, and they have received no information regarding an evacuation timeline from the South African government.
“Forgotten what it is like to be free”
A South African English teacher who has been trapped in her apartment for almost two months told the Sunday Times that she has “forgotten what it is like to be free”, adding that she has been outside fewer than five times since the outbreak began.
During the occasions where these citizens are allowed outside to buy food, they are reportedly monitored constantly and their temperature is taken.
Military and police roadblocks have been erected throughout the city to prevent the spread of the virus, making it impossible for uninfected South Africans trapped in their homes to leave the city.
According to the report, the South African embassy has told these citizens they will be informed of an evacuation plan as soon as they are informed by the government themselves.
The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) said in a statement last week that while an aircraft has been secured to bring the citizens home, acts of intimidation are impeding efforts to secure a local quarantine site.
“We have also received some disturbing reports, of some of the potential service providers being intimidated,” the GCIS said. “This intimidation makes it very difficult for government to speedily conclude preparations.”
Speaking to The Sunday Times, GCIS acting director-general Phumla Williams said that until a local quarantine site can be secured, South Africans in Wuhan are unable to return.
“Until we identify and sign for a site, the South Africans are stuck,” Williams said. “Health protocols state we must quarantine those returning.”
South African cases
The COVID-19 coronavirus reached South African shores last week, with the first case being confirmed on 5 March.
The first confirmed patient was a 38-year-old male who travelled to Italy with his wife.
This patient had been self-isolating since 3 March in Hilton, Pietermaritzburg.
On 7 March, it was confirmed that a woman in Gauteng had tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus – the second confirmed case of the virus in South Africa.
The woman was part of the same group who recently travelled to Italy as the man who has been self-isolating in Pietermaritzburg.
The Department of Health stated that the rest of the travel group who returned to South Africa were being tested for the coronavirus.
“The second patient who has now tested positive for COVID-19 will now be immediately admitted to a public health facility in Gauteng that government has identified as one of the hospitals that are ready to receive COVID-19 positive patients,” said the department.