'It is like a death city' – South African in virus-hit Wuhan, China

A South African teaching in China has described how she and others are living through the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus.

Roxanne Rawlins has been teaching in Wuhan, the city where thousands of coronavirus cases have been reported, since April 2019.

“I went from telling people I live in Wuhan and nobody knew where it is and now it is famous overnight. We are definitely feeling it and a little bit isolated,” Rawlins told Martin Bester on the JacarandaFM breakfast show.

Rawlins is on a WeChat group with other South Africans living in the city.

“We have to leave to get food and it’s in those times when you feel anxious and every day there is new information.”

Medical staff and security personnel stop patients' family members from being too close to the Jinyintan hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on January 20 2020.
Medical staff and security personnel stop patients' family members from being too close to the Jinyintan hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, on January 20 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

She told the show that they were urged to wear masks, gloves and sunglasses.

She said the city was on lockdown and all public transport and schools had been closed.

“People cannot go anywhere unless they walk. It is like a death city at the moment and no one wants to be outdoors.  

“In the past two weeks we have been out twice and those times it was just to get food. The second time, I made sure that I got food for three to four weeks.”

Rawlins said schools were supposed to open on February 10 but the government had sent out notices to say they would stay closed until further notice.

She said wildlife trading at the markets in China had also been suspended.

On Wednesday morning, SA health minister Zweli Mkhize reassured South Africans that the national health department had enough contingency measures in place to properly deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

“SA has responded rapidly to ensure that the coronavirus does not become a national threat. As a department, it is standard procedure to monitor emergent outbreaks and we are currently tracking a plethora of pathogens, including those viruses of pandemic potential,” he said.

Chairperson of the portfolio committee on health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, welcomed Mkhize's announcement. 

“I have full confidence in the ability and expertise within the department of health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases to detect, manage and contain the virus if it reaches our shores.

“The processes laid out by the minster are clear and must be followed religiously,” Dhlomo said. 

The committee urged heightened co-operation between the department of home affairs and the Airports Company of SA to enable increased surveillance of people entering SA, particularly from countries with confirmed cases of the virus.


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