Africa continues to monitor ports of entry for coronavirus

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On Friday, Africa confirmed its first case of coronavirus in Egypt. While health experts have been fearful of what would happen when the disease reached the continent, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, says the fact that Egypt was able to detect the patient, shows its preparedness at the points of entry.

A suspected case of coronavirus in Egypt there is high alert in Africa watch below:

This week, the continent continued to ramp up its surveillance capacity at points of entry.  The trade links between Africa and China have put the continent at a greater risk of the virus spreading to the continent.

African airports like the rest of the world have introduced mandatory checks and screenings for all passengers entering their territories. Over the past two weeks, the World Health Organisation  (WHO) has held training sessions in Kenya on detection of the virus for airport personnel.

“The full week is mainly focused on the countries which have interactions with China or goods coming from China or they are located as a hub of internationally travellers,” says Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Ahmed Zaghloul.

The idea is to try to prevent the virus from reaching the continent due to Africa’s inadequate health infrastructure and personnel. “The training this week is to strengthen surveillance at the point of entry, so we have a profile of participants from Ministry of Health, from the airport and also civil aviation,” says WHO representative Soatiana Rajatonirina.

The WHO has identified 13 priority countries, for possible entry of the disease through its ports of entry.  “It is (the training) to remind them of the state’s responsibility, the state’s preparedness to deal with any communicable disease imported through the air transport,” says Deputy Regional Director of the International Civil Aviation Organisation Arthemon Ndikumana.

This is crucial because of the close economic links between Africa and China. There are currently eight direct flights daily between African countries and China.

At the moment, African national carriers including Kenya Airways, EgyptAir, RwandAir and Air Tanzania have suspended flights to China indefinitely.  Only Africa’s largest carrier Ethiopian Airlines is still flying to China.  “No one is recommending that we close the borders either for travellers or goods so if an airline is closing the borders, this is a decision made internally but not according to any recommendation from our side,” says Zaghloul.

In South Africa, safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus into South Africa through ports of entry, like harbours and locally-based multinational companies, remain in place. Companies doing imports and exports remain on alert.

At this stage, it still remains unclear how long the virus remains active on objects or outside the human body.  The Eastern Cape has three ports, the Port of Ngqura, East London and Port Elizabeth ports.

Vigilance remains for more than two months since the first deaths related to the virus were reported. South Africa has thus far maintained its coronavirus free status. Acting Chief Harbour Master in Port Elizabeth Captain Sabelo Mdlalose says strict measures are in place.

“In addition to the current standing procedures, in alignment with the pot health and the Department of Health has put in stringent measures to screen all vessels coming into our South African ports. All suspected vessels will be placed under quarantine until clearance is received from relevant authorities. Measures have been put in place to make sure that people are not allowed to interact with suspected vessels.”

The automotive industry is an economic pillar of the Eastern Cape, with six multinational manufacturers active in the province. Corporate Affairs Manager of Mercedes Benz in East London, Thato Mntambo, says safety measures, as prescribed by the World Health Organisation, are also in place at plant level.

“We’ve assured our employees and suppliers that measures are in place to dictate, manage and control any cases of coronavirus should it come to our manufacturing operations, thus far no suspected cases of coronavirus have been reported in our manufacturing operations.”

The Livingstone Hospital in Nelson Mandela Bay is the dedicated quarantine and treatment centre for coronavirus patients in the province. The Superintendent General of Health in the Eastern Cape, Dr Thobile Mbengashe, is satisfied with the ability to deal with an outbreak of the virus.

“Livingstone hospital has got very advanced isolation systems to deal with very serious health issues, those services have been activated. At the province we’ve got a provincial team that is looking at all the different areas where we could actually make an intervention. We’ve got people who are monitoring it, we’ve got the equipment and we are ready.”

Private medical practitioners are also informed about what to look for and the process to follow if they encounter a suspected case of the virus. By Tuesday, China had reported over 1 800 deaths following the deadly coronavirus outbreak. Authors-Sarah Kimani and Veronica Fourie

The infographic below provides more information about the coronavirus: