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Plane to head to China to fetch South Africans

122 South Africans have indicated that they want to leave Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

People wearing protective facemasks, amid fears of the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, walk on a street in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on 27 February 2020. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - A plane will leave South Africa on Tuesday night to fetch South African from China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Inter-Ministerial Task Team (IMTT) tasked with the management of the county’s readiness to handle the spread of COVID-19 announced that all plans had been finalised for the preparation of the 122 South Africans who are currently residing in Wuhan, China.

"It must be noted that originally the Government received over 180 requests from the citizens residing in Wuhan to be repatriated back to South Africa. Over time and having made consideration of personal circumstances, some South Africans indicated to government their decision to rather stay on at their respective commitments in Wuhan.

"The flight will leave from OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday, 10 March 2020 at 21:00. On board the flight will be the flight crew from the aircraft company and a total of 15 officials from the Department of Health and the Department of Defense (Military Health). The flight will stop-over in the Philippines on the 11 March 2020 for refueling, to rest and to re-stock essential foodstuffs needed for the return journey.

"After the stop-over in the Philippines, the aircraft will fly to Wuhan City. Upon arrival, the team will work with our Chinese counterparts but also the staff of our Embassy in China, screening our repatriates and checking required travel documents.

"The flight will leave Wuhan City at the early hours of the morning and land back in South Africa on 13 March 2020. In due course, announcements will be made about the arrival of the South Africans home.

"The IMTT would also like to confirm, as initially reported, that the repatriated citizens will be quarantined for an initial period of 21 days which may be extended should any person display symptoms of COVID-19 at the identified site. We reiterate that no South Africans coming home returning home are showing any symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. At the appropriate time, the quarantine site will be announced and the details of the site management plan will be shared with members of the public and the media.

"After the mandated quarantined period, those citizens who are cleared will be re-integrated to the communities and be re-united with their families.

"We urge the South Africans to welcome these fellow citizens with warm hands as they begin to rebuild their lives in the country after what has been a very trying time for most repatriates."

President Cyril Ramaphosa will lead the South African government delegation to see off the team designated to repatriate South Africans who are in Wuhan.

The President will be joined by the Ministers of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize and Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

The death toll has now passed the 4,000-mark since the global outbreak in December. More than 116,000 infections have been reported, while 64,000 have recovered from the virus.