How citizens will be flown home from coronavirus-hit Wuhan in China

Carefully considered plans are in place for the team on a mission to Wuhan in China to bring home South Africans. File photo.
Carefully considered plans are in place for the team on a mission to Wuhan in China to bring home South Africans. File photo.
Image: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

SA will be exercising extra caution to ensure that none of the citizens being repatriated from China are carrying the coronavirus.

Paramedic Ahmed Bham, who is part of the team of medical specialists that left for Wuhan in China, gave a brief summary of how the evacuation will take place.

Bham said first, all those leaving China would be subjected to an “exit screening” test by the Chinese authorities.

“We will establish our own medical screening points before boarding the aircraft,” he said.

“[The repatriated citizens] are also not going to be all together in one place. We are going to have social distancing, which is used quite often now in transportation and repatriation. So, for example, one area of the plane can only use the one toilet. Inside there, there will be sanitising equipment as well,” he said.

Before the group disembarks from the plane, they will be subjected to further testing.

“We will be doing an exit screening on the plane before the doors are opened and then the procedures will follow into the quarantine zone,” he said.

Those returning to SA, including the medical staff and plane crew, will then be subjected to quarantine for 21 days. Only once they have been given the all clear, with their test results coming back negative, will they be released.

Bham said the crew embarking on the mission had been given extensive training, which also included them being psychologically prepared for the mission.

“For preparing the plane crew, we had a training exercise and a briefing to prepare them so they can work together and through the protocols of what we need to do in case we have an asymptomatic person on board, how to isolate,” he said.

“As you know, it’s a huge undertaking to do this,” he added.

Bham is no stranger to embarking on dangerous missions to deliver medical care.

He is the head of the search and rescue team at Gift of the Givers.

Head of the organisation, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, expressed faith in Bham and his abilities.

He said he recalled working with Bham in 2005 when he was deployed to Pakistan after a devastating earthquake.

“He was with me in Somalia. He was in Congo ... He led the team to Nepal [after an earthquake] and Mozambique during the floods,” he said.

“He has achieved a lot. He is well-informed and good at organising. He understands diplomatic engagements and can set up anything in terms of logistics from cars, to boats, to trains or anything that can be needed on a mission. He is very good,” said Sooliman.

“We wish him and all South Africans on the team well,” Sooliman added.


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