President Cyril Ramaphosa has hailed the South African team travelling to Wuhan as heroes who carry the pride and hope of the nation.

The President, together with Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize and Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, bid goodbye and sent well wishes to the team on Tuesday night, who will repatriate 121 South Africans from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus.


The mission is a first of its kind undertaken by the South African government.

To date, the virus has claimed more than 4 000 lives globally.

In South Africa, seven people who returned from Italy in a group are being treated for the virus.

President Ramaphosa conveyed his utmost gratitude to the team for displaying bravery during adversity.

“We are delighted that you heeded the order to go out and repatriate our fellow South Africans, you are our patriots. We are proud of you, this is an important mission. The entire nation will be looking at how you execute this mission. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” adds the President.

The video below, shows the coronavirus footprint in Africa:

The President briefing the media: 

The President told the soldiers that he remains proud of them in this very important mission to bring back 121 South Africans. He said their patriotism is what’s most touching to the nation.

Special precautions

Meanwhile, Minister Mkhize says none of the South Africans in China have coronavirus but will still be quarantined and tested as part of health requirements when they arrive back home from Wuhan.

Mkhize says special precautions will be taken.

“This team is going to go and fetch people who are well. We will keep screening them to check if we find someone has got an infection, we will take them out and take them for treatment. So in the area where they are going to be quarantined, it’s just a health requirement that they come from an area that had a very high infection rate. Whilst they are not sick, we want them to wait there – we will want to watch the symptoms. If the evidence of the virus doesn’t appear, when we are done with that we will test them again then we let them go home.”

In the video below, President Cyril Ramaphosa is shown the coronavirus health and screening process at the OR Tambo International Airport:  

‘121 South Africans in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus’ 

Acting Health Director-General Anben Pillay has provided details of the flight’s planned route and repatriation procedure.

“So the flight goes from Johannesburg to the Philippines, it has to refuel – they will have a stopover. I think 48 hours is what is going to be and they will move on to Wuhan. They will pick up the students, refuel and then fly non-stop back to South Africa. By the way, they’re not only students there are also teachers and other people in the group as well. They have their meeting point which they’ve been using for other countries as well. That’s where they will be picked up from. The aircraft will be on the ground for 8 hours. The last number I received from International Relations is 121 that have confirmed but I suppose when the aircraft lands we’ll find out exactly how many are going to be coming along.”

SABC News’ Chriselda Lewis reports from OR Tambo International Airport

The map below tracks coronavirus cases across the world: 

Additional reporting by Sherwin Bryce-Pease