The South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has warned against stigmatising people infected with Coronavirus.
The NICD said despite there being no confirmed case of the virus in South Africa, it has noted the disturbing stigmatisation against people from affected areas which now includes Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
“Stigma has the potential to drive people to hide their illness to avoid discrimination and further prevent people from seeking healthcare. This can lead to difficulties in identifying and controlling the spread of COVID-19 should it reach our shores,” cautioned the NICD.
As of 2 March 2020, the NICD tested a total of 160 persons for SARS-CoV-2 of which 109 met the case definition for persons under investigation (PIU). All results have been negative.
The NICD is currently the only laboratory performing testing for SARS-CoV-2 and confirmed that South Africa has not had a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19.
“Given that COVID-19 is a new disease, it is understandable that its emergence and possible importation into South Africa may cause confusion, anxiety and fear among the general public; however, viruses do not target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds.
“We urge the public to desist from participating in stereotyping and discriminating against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation,” said the NICD.
The Institute called on anyone who may develop symptoms of the Coronavirus either or during and after recent travel to countries where COVID-19 is known to be circulating to seek medical care early and share information about their travel history with their healthcare providers.
Symptoms include respiratory illness including cough, fever and shortness of breath.
As of 24 February the virus is known to be circulating in mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy.
The General Public Hotline Number for South Africa is 0800 029 999 and operates on weekdays, Monday to Friday, during 08h00 to 16h00.
Global update on Coronavirus
While Wuhan City in the Hubei province in China is the epicentre of the Coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the number of cases in China continues to decline.
On Sunday, China reported 206 cases of COVID-19 to WHO, the lowest since the 22 January 2019. Only eight cases were reported outside Hubei province on Sunday.
Outside China, a total of 8 739 cases of COVID-19 have been reported to WHO from 61 countries, with 127 deaths.
“In the last 24 hours, there were almost 9 times more cases reported outside China than inside China.
“The epidemics in the Republic of Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan are our greatest concern,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a briefing on Coronavirus on Monday.
WHO supports Iran response
With a 1 501 COVID-19 cases, including 66 deaths, reported in Iran a team of WHO experts landed in Tehran, to support the ongoing response to the Coronavirus.
“I would also like to inform you that a WHO team arrived in Iran this afternoon to deliver supplies and support the government in the response.
“I would like to use this opportunity to thank Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates for his support in making this mission possible,” said the WHO Director-General.
The plane carrying the technical team members contained a shipment of medical supplies and protective equipment to support over 15 000 health care workers, as well as enough laboratory kits enough to test and diagnose nearly 100 000 people.
Cases with a travel history to Iran have also been reported from Afghanistan, Canada, Lebanon, Pakistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.