Health officials call meeting over Bay Ironman

Nurse Vuyokazi Mathiyase is in one of the rooms where infected patients will be kept in isolation
Nurse Vuyokazi Mathiyase is in one of the rooms where infected patients will be kept in isolation

The Eastern Cape department of health has convened a meeting on Friday to discuss the upcoming Ironman African Championship amid coronavirus concerns.

This comes at the same time an online petition was launched in a bid to stop the Ironman African Championship from being staged in Port Elizabeth on March 29.

Earlier this week, Ironman SA said it would push ahead with the competition.

In a media briefing on Thursday, minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu said 17 cases of the killer virus had been reported in SA.

The highly infectious coronavirus, which leads to potentially deadly respiratory disease, has disrupted global trade and travel, and battered stock markets.

By Thursday, about 126,000 people had contracted the virus, with more than  4,640 in 116 countries and territories dying after contracting it.

Department of sport, recreation, arts and culture municipal acting executive director Charmaine Williams said an urgent meeting had been called by the provincial health department to consult with all role players.

“We are busy with a risk analysis to determine the seriousness of the risk,” she said.

“The provincial health department called to discuss issues relating to this event [Ironman]. 

“We have also asked for guidance from various national departments.

“Obviously, we do not want to put anyone at risk and for this reason we are consulting with all stakeholders.”

Williams said all municipal departments including disaster management, as well as safety and security, were being  roped in.

“We will soon be in a better position to answer questions [about the event].

“However, at this stage we are waiting for the health department to meet and discuss this with us,” she said.

An online petition, started by Bay resident Jacqueline Kroon, was quickly garnering signatures.

Kroon wrote: “Due to the fast-spreading nature of the coronavirus, I/we feel that it is highly irresponsible to allow foreign athletes into our country and the city of Port Elizabeth.

“Our citizens’ health and wellbeing will be put at risk.

“Please help sign our petition to at least postpone the Ironman competition until the coronavirus is under control.”

Most of the comments called for the competition to be moved to a later date.

Barbra Roberts posted: “Don’t allow the Ironman competition anywhere near Port Elizabeth. We cannot have any foreigners coming into PE due to coronavirus, it is not safe. Cancel the Ironman competition!”

Her message was echoed by several others who signed the petition.

Jana Jonker said: “Reason for signing: Until the world has a grip on this virus I think travelling for competitions should be kept to a minimum. Postpone until we know what is going on.”

Health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Ironman SA spokesperson Siya Ndzimande, when asked again to answer questions sent on Tuesday, provided little clarity on issues pertaining to the petition, whether the organisers had reconsidered their position and if a risk assessment had been undertaken.

Instead, he sent a statement that read: “As with every edition of the Ironman African Championship the team has been hard at work developing and refining its operational plans with local authorities and agencies over the past year, including relevant safety measures and protocols which has been heightened over the last few weeks.

“We are working closely with city officials who are in turn in communication with national government and relevant government departments.

“While the Ironman African Championship implements a comprehensive safety plan for the event each year, we have further built on these measures based on the recommendations and guidelines of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

“We remain in close communication with local authorities as well as our event’s medical, safety and security service providers to have measures in place to mitigate risk.”

These would include implementation of “additional on-site event safety and precautionary measures, as well as education and guidelines for event staff and volunteers at race venue locations”, the statement said.