Ironman African Championship postponed amid virus fears

The 2020 event, meant to have been held in Port Elizabeth on March 29, has been postponed as a result of coronavirus fears
The 2020 event, meant to have been held in Port Elizabeth on March 29, has been postponed as a result of coronavirus fears

The Ironman African Championship set to take place in Nelson Mandela Bay on March 29 has been postponed as coronavirus fears grip the globe.

The announcement was made yesterday, shortly after health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize told the country eight more South Africans had tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to 24.

In a short statement, Ironman SA spokesperson Siya Ndzimande said: “In what has been a continually evolving and challenging time globally, we recognise that the postponement may come as a disappointment, but look forward to providing athletes with an exceptional race experience in the future.”

The championship will now be held on November 15.

The announcement was made on the same day the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality met with Eastern Cape department of health officials to discuss the event and other related issues.

The SA  government has called a special cabinet meeting to discuss the coronavirus, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

The meeting was expected to be held tomorrow in Tshwane, the Government Communication and Information System said in a statement.

“The cabinet reassures all in SA that the country remains on high alert.

“Every precaution is being taken to safeguard the country against any surge of the COVID-19,” minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu was quoted as saying.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the confirmed cases were confined to four provinces: KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, with 10 cases each; the Western Cape (three cases) and Mpumalanga (one case).

Mkhize warned, however, that the number could be higher as a number of positive test results were being verified.

Mkhize also said yesterday he had conducted a final inspection of the Ranch Resort outside Polokwane.

The resort will be used to quarantine the 121 South Africans the government is evacuating from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the global pandemic.

Mkhize, addressing journalists outside the resort, said: “Up until now all 24 of the cases we have recorded in SA have been brought into the country by those travelling from overseas to here.

“The main issue is to identify those who test positive, limit their movement and treat them.

“This is critical to ensure we do not have a localised spread.”

Eastern  Cape health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said the meeting between municipal and health department officials had been held so issues such as port of entry control, the Ironman African Championship and other events in the Bay could be discussed.

“For example, we know that a cruise liner is coming to the Bay.

“We are wanting to ensure that the port of entry has plans in place to deal with how they will assess the risk of the persons on board.”

There were also several other events for which risk assessments were done to assess and discuss, he said.

On the Ironman decision, municipal disaster management head Shane Brown said: “In the interest of public safety it is in the best interest of all concerned and sends a message that the virus is taken seriously.”

As major events across the globe and in SA — including  the annual Human Rights Festival in Johannesburg, the Volkswagen VIVOnation music and lifestyle festival in Johannesburg and the Proteas one-day international (ODI) tour of India  — were cancelled, religious leaders in the Bay called for calm.

Anglican Bishop Eddie Daniels advised people to heed the call of the WHO after it declared COVID 19 a pandemic.

“At a time such as this, because of our connectedness as a human race, it’s incumbent upon us to approach one another and the virus in the true spirit of ubuntu,” Daniels said.

“It’s important that we temper our approach towards other people based on an ethic of empathy, compassion and care.

“It’s important to remain mindful that behind every reported case is a person, a family and a wider community that’s affected.

“The spread is because of the world becoming increasingly the proverbial village and so our collective compassion as a church is extended to everyone, bearing in mind that the poor and indigent remain the most vulnerable of all,” Daniels said.

Assemblies of God Association of Southern Africa executive member Apostle Neville Goldman said it was important for people to guard against all forms of discrimination.

“We’ve been this way before with other viruses such as Ebola and HIV/Aids and the problem was that we put people in a certain box and stigmatise them.”

Bishop Jacob Freemantle, head of the Methodist church in Makhanda, called on the government to strengthen its efforts in combating the virus.  

“Already we’re experiencing economic effects from load-shedding and corruption and now we’re calling on churches to conduct prayers for intervention.

“We’re also praying for our schools because we worry what might happen should this have a grip on our children, because we are not sure if the capacity of political leadership, of government, is enough for this,” Freemantle said. —  Additional reporting TimesLIVE