South Africa has dispatched a team to repatriate 122 nationals from coronavirus-hit Wuhan in China.
The exercise will cost government an estimated R80 million ($4.9 million) in evacuation and subsequent quarantine.
The move comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa last month ordered the repatriation of South Africans trapped in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I have full confidence that our soldiers will execute this mission successfully. This is a task to bring back our children from China,” President Ramaphosa said at the OR Tambo International Airport, ahead of their departure on Tuesday night.
He assured South Africans that the returnees were all healthy.
“They are not sick, and we need to make that very clear — we are not going to fetch disease-ridden people out of China. We are bringing back healthy people whose parents are all like us. They have said we would like our children to come back,” he said.
The team will stop in the Philippines on the way to Wuhan.
It is estimated that there were 199 South Africans citizens in Wuhan as per the latest consolidated list from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. However, only 122 of them have expressed the desire to be repatriated. They have been living under lockdown conditions following the outbreak of the coronavirus in December 2019.
Upon arrival in South Africa, they will be placed in quarantine for 21 days as an additional precautionary measure.
Egypt has the highest number of confirmed cases in Africa, with 59 people testing positive, and one death so far.
Meanwhile, South Africa confirmed six new cases of the deadly coronavirus today, bringing the number of people being treated for the infectious disease nationally to 13, the Minister of Health said.
The latest confirmed cases were detected in three provinces — four of them in Gauteng, one in KwaZulu-Natal and one in the Western Cape.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday morning confirmed there were now 13 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa.
“All the patients have now been advised. Those who are symptomatic have started receiving treatment. Some of these patients are already in hospital while some, specifically those who are asymptomatic are in self-quarantine. Contact tracing has also started for all these cases,” Dr Mkhize said in a statement.