PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - One of China’s top Africa diplomats -- the ambassador to South Africa -- says there is no need for Africans to panic over the coronavirus.
No confirmed cases of the pneumonia-like virus have yet surfaced on the continent. Ambassador Lin Songtian says China is monitoring all visitors to South Africa, and that in China, officials are treating the thousands of African nationals who may be at risk.
The best thing Africans can do about the spread of coronavirus, says the ambassador, is to remain calm and stay put.
The respiratory virus has now affected more than 14,500 people across 23 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Most cases -- and most of the more than 300 deaths -- occurred in China, where the virus originated last year.
As fears spread globally, the ambassador sought to soothe frayed nerves in South Africa’s capital.
"We have no choice but to work together to win the battle against this virus and bring them under our control,” Lin said Monday. “And that is our suggestion, we hope. American friends, European union, all the developed countries -- you can feel ensured and relaxed. China is safe. We have shown, the capacity and the resources are strong enough to bring this disease, the coronavirus, under control as soon as possible.”
More than 3,000 South African nationals reside in China, and he advised them -- and others -- to remain in place. Several countries, including Australia, Britain, Japan and the United States, have repatriated their citizens, which Chinese officials say may only spread the infection.
Health officials say the virus can be spread from close contact with infected people.
"All the foreigners, including the American people who are in China, they are the friend of China, they are the guest of China, they are our people, our friend,” he said. “So I would like to advise them: Trust China. Give the hand to us. Give us confidence and strength and solidarity. Stay well, in the community, in the village, at home, at the university, you are safe. In case something happens, the system is working.”
Lin also noted that all newly arrived visitors from China are being monitored and screened by Chinese authorities, though he did not say how many people that involved. He noted that the embassy is advising all travelers from China to remain home for their first week, and to monitor their health and keep in contact with the embassy.
Additionally, South Africa’s government has implemented temperature testing and health screening at the continent’s busiest airport. The nation’s health minister has assured the population that the government has contingency plans in place, including designated treatment facilities and a 24-hour hotline.