South Africa

CORONAVIRUS

No need for alarm, claims Chinese ambassador

No need for alarm, claims Chinese ambassador
Medical staff in protective suits attend to patients at Wuhan Fang Cang makeshift hospital in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, 17 February 2020 (issued 18 February 2020). The disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has been officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The outbreak, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far killed more than 1,800 people with over 73,000 infected worldwide, mostly in China. EPA-EFE/STRINGER CHINA OUT

‘China has taken the most comprehensive and rigorous measures to prevent and control the epidemic so as to resolutely contain the spread of the disease and defeat the virus within China.’

South Africa is unlikely to suffer a major outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, which has so far killed thousands, mainly in China, because of strict quarantine measures by China and the capabilities of the South African health system, according to China’s ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian.

He said China had made great sacrifices to contain the epidemic in China and prevent it spreading to South Africa, including placing severe restrictions on Chinese travelling abroad and isolating in their homes those Chinese who returned from China to South Africa, among them embassy staff.

At a press conference in Pretoria on Tuesday, Lin also said that South Africans in China, including about 3,000 students, had been encouraged to stay there until the epidemic had been brought completely under control. Of these 3,000 students, 165 were studying in Hubei province, the epicentre of the epidemic. None of them had been confirmed as infected. Lin said the South African government was sympathetic to his advice not to evacuate its nationals from China.

The students, like everyone else in China, were subjected to severe restrictions on their movement to prevent the virus spreading. But this was necessary, as China was “in wartime, fighting this epidemic”.

Those countries that were evacuating their nationals, such as the US, Singapore and Canada, had exposed themselves to the risk of spreading the disease further, he said. 

So far, he said, only 27 of the millions of foreigners in China had been confirmed as having the virus, two of whom had died. 

“We try our best to defeat and contain the virus within our territory. China has taken the most comprehensive and rigorous measures to prevent and control the epidemic so as to resolutely contain the spread of the disease and defeat the virus within China,” Lin said.

“We don’t want to see it getting into Africa, including South Africa.”

These measures included asking travel agencies to suspend all domestic and international tour groups and making Chinese citizens travelling abroad fill in and sign Exit and Entry Health Declaration Forms informing authorities about their travel records.

Any Chinese who had travelled from South Africa to China, including embassy staff, had to get his permission to return. Those who had visited Hubei province were not allowed to return to South Africa before the end of the epidemic. And those from outside Hubei who returned to South Africa had to go straight from the airport to their homes and remain there for at least one week in quarantine. The embassy was monitoring them for any symptom of infection.

“We have carried out temperature screening at all departure airports and seaports and railway stations to make sure that people travelling abroad will not transmit the virus to other countries.

“Meanwhile, we advised those Chinese people and foreigners travelling out of China at this moment to be quarantined at home for one to two weeks to make sure not to bring the virus into South Africa and Africa and the world.”

These measures had demonstrated that the virus could be prevented, controlled, treated and cured. The key was early detection, early isolation – even within families – early testing and early treatment.

“I have confidence in South Africa’s medical facilities, rapid response mechanism, professionalism and scientific response,” he added. 

“Even if a few individual cases are found in this country, South Africa is fully prepared and capable of dealing with them. There is no need to panic.”

China would continue to strengthen joint prevention and control cooperation with the continent through the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Addis Ababa as well as with individual governments to prevent and control the spread of the virus to South Africa and other African countries.

He noted that so far only one infected person had been confirmed in Africa and none in South Africa.

Lin said China had paid a huge price and made great sacrifices with the measures it had taken to contain the epidemic in China. It had made “remarkable progress so far, which fully demonstrates the extraordinary and outstanding leadership of the Communist Party of China and President Xi Jinping and the superiority of socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

China had not only protected lives in China and the world but had safeguarded global public health security and had made new contributions to world human rights and set up a new standard in epidemic prevention and control, Lin said. He explained that the right to health was a basic human right. 

He devoted a large part of the press conference to rebuking US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is visiting Africa this week for the first time in his official capacity and who has criticised China engagement with Africa and China’s political system.

Lin said capitalism could never have matched the achievements of China in fighting the virus, including the building of two specialised hospitals with a capacity of about 2,600 beds in 10 days and the construction of 15 mobile cabin hospitals with a total capacity of more than 10,000 beds.

He asked if the US could match China’s achievement in getting all of its 1.4 billion people to follow government instructions to stay at home and quarantine themselves for more than 14 days to curb the spread of the virus inside and beyond China. 

He dismissed as “groundless and inconsistent with the facts” a Financial Times report that China had bungled its early response to the epidemic and that the virus was still spreading rapidly inside and beyond China, with the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths rising.

Lin insisted that the number of new confirmed and suspected cases had been declining continuously, that the death toll remained low and the cure rate had been rising significantly. The number of confirmed cases per day in China had dropped from 3,887 on 4 February to 1,886 on 17 February, he said. 

“The number of new confirmed cases in provinces except Hubei has dropped from 890 on February 3 to 79 on February 17. The number of new suspected cases in the whole country has been declining for 12 consecutive days, from 5,328 on February 5 to 1,432 on February 17.

“The number of new suspected cases in Hubei has been declining for 15 consecutive days from 3,260 on February 2 to 788 on February 17. The number of new suspected cases in provinces except Hubei has been dropping for 11 consecutive days, from 2,211 on February 6 to 644 on February 17.

“As of February 17, 1,868 people have died of NCP [another name for the virus] nationwide, with a mortality rate of about 2.5% – compared to 10% for the SARS epidemic – and 0.6% in provinces except Hubei. Since February 12, more than 1,000 people have been cured per day. As of February 17, 1,701 people have been cured a day, and 12,552 people in total up to yesterday have been discharged from hospital.

“There are tens of millions of foreigners in China, including half a million foreign students. Up to now, only 27 foreigners have been infected with NCP in China and only two of them died of the virus.” 

Lin compared China’s control of the coronavirus with the 2009 H1N1 virus, which he said had originated in the United States and spread to 214 countries and regions around the world, affecting as many as 61 million people and killing about 300,000.

By contrast, the coronavirus had affected only 25 countries and most of the confirmed cases outside China had been caused by the evacuation of their citizens by such countries as the US, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, South Korea, as well as Japan’s Diamond Princess Cruise ship incident. 

“If one subtracts the 454 confirmed cases on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship, there were only over 300 confirmed cases in 25 countries outside China.” DM

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