Port Elizabeth: 10 February 2020
Global efforts to first restrict and then contain a worldwide rapid spread of the coronavirus (2019-nCov) currently causing havoc in China, where it originated, are now fully impacting shipping, with several countries including South Africa reportedly having implemented health measures that restrict the movement of seafarers whose ships have been to China recently.
According to shipping group, Wilhelmsen, “due to coronavirus, many ports have implemented safety measures for vessels coming from countries with confirmed cases of 2019-nCov, especially from China.”
This comes amid news that crew – as well as passengers – aboard some ships that have been to China are among a growing list of victims; the latest of these being a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess reportedly with more than 3 000 people onboard and some 130 of which have since been found to be infected.
The Wilhelmsen report, (citing a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, said 16 countries where the virus was confirmed include China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, United States of America, Canada, France, Germany and United Arab Emirates.
The report said: “Most often used safety measures involve quarantine stations, temperature screenings Maritime declarations of Health send (sic) by the Master of a vessel prior to its arrival, Free Pratique confirmations, identifying high risk vessels – which are vessels coming from China or other countries where coronavirus have been confirmed ad necessary for Port Health clearances among others.”
In a separate report currently tracking country ports responses across the globe – including a live map with regular updates – Wilhelmsen mentioned South Africa as among countries now with certain restrictions to movements of vessels originating from China.
The report states that South Africa currently has two restrictions; (1): ‘vessels whose previous port of call was China and (2): “crew changes etc for Chinese seafarers or those who embarked in China.”
In South Africa, on 30 January 2020 the National Department of Health issued a document named: “Standard Operating Procedures for Preparedness, Detection and Response to a Coronavirus (2019-NCOV) Outbreak in South Africa.”
The Health Department’s document states that while as at 29 January 2020 there had been no reported cases of the coronavirus in the country, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) would closely monitor the situation “and will test patients that satisfy the criteria for suspected cases, bearing in mind that it is influenza season in the northern hemisphere and the expected respiratory tract infections are common.”
On restrictions and containment management of risk at the country’s ports of entry, including shipping ports, the Health Department says Port Health Service ‘is the first line of defence to protect citizens of South Africa and visitors against the health risks associated with border movement of people, conveyances, baggage, cargo shipments and other imported consignments.
“It is thus vital for all points of entry to be on the alert and (be) prepared to respond to possible importation of a communicable disease, whether intentional or unintentional.”
To this end, the document offers a set of ‘standard operating procedures’ (that) “detail measures that must be implemented by port health officials in preventing and responding to a suspected case of EVD.”
Screening measures include:
- “Port Health officials must monitor all arriving conveyances from the affected countries and increase surveillance measures
- “Upon arrival of the conveyance, Port Health officials must collect and verify the health documentation and interview the crew members/operators to determine if there is any sick passenger on board.
- “In addition to the routine interview of crew members/operators, Port Health officials must ask crew members questions specific to signs and symptoms of 2019-nCov.
- “If the Port Health official is certain that there are no sick passengers on board and all health requirements have been met, the passengers may be allowed to disembark.
- “All arriving passengers must be channelled through thermal processes.
- “Travelers found to have elevated temperature must be escorted to the Port Health clinic where available, for further examination and must be interviewed to determine their travel history
- “Where Port Health clinic is not available, Port Health must interview the traveller with elevated temperature to determine their travel history, record the details of the traveller and if required, transfer the traveller to the nearest health facility. Finally,
- “Travellers presenting with any of one these symptoms; fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain and have travelled to the affected countries must be isolated and arrangements made to transportation of the traveller to the nearest designated health facility.
In the case of known and reported cases by vessels themselves, the procedure involves the following:
- “From an incoming vessel, a patient or others passengers (must) inform Captains/ and the crew must move the suspected patent to an isolated area, and the Captain must report illness to the harbour
- “The Captain or vessel Clearing Agent must inform Port Health Officers
- “The Port Health officers must contact emergency Medical Services and the designated hospital for patient referral, as well as notify the provincial and/or district CDC
- “The Port Health officer must facilitate assessment of a passenger(s) and contact the vessel prior to their departure from the habour
- “CDC coordinator must monitor contacts utilising information provided by the port health
- “If close contacts develop signs and symptoms, they must be referred to designated health facility
- Where cleaning and/or disinfection is required, the Port Health office must inform cleaning/handling company and monitor the process.
Health centres designated as “hospitals for managing 2019-nCov cases” in South Africa’s coastal provinces include the Greys Hospital (Durban, KwaZulu-Natal), Livingstone Hospital (Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape), Tygerberg Hospital (Cape Town, Western Cape) and Kimberley Hospital (Kimberley, Northern Cape).