Ministry scrambles to detect coronavirus at entry points

By Maria Kandjungu

NEWLY elected Walvis Bay Urban constituency councillor Knowledge Ipinge has requested the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration to temporarily suspend visa applications for all Chinese nationals due to the coronavirus outbreak in China.

In a letter to Home Affairs Minister Frans Kapofi on Tuesday, Ipinge also requested that the ministry ban entry to all individuals who visited Hubei province over the previous 90 days, irrespective of nationality.

Ipinge further requested that the ministry “collaborate with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to investigate and safeguard the current outbreak doesn’t spread to Walvis Bay Urban Constituency and Namibia at large. Conduct screening at Walvis Bay Airport, Namport, Hosea Kutako International airport and Eros Airport.”

Following the outbreak of the virus that killed over a 130 people worldwide and infected more than 6 000 people mainly in China, the executive director at the Health Ministry Benetus Nangombe this week told Confidente that the ministry was watching the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus carefully and preparations are underway to ensure Namibia is well equipped to deal with the threat.

All travellers coming to Namibia, especially from China will according to the Health Ministry be subject to screening at the airports and other entry points as a precautionary measure to ensure the coronavirus does not get into Namibia undetected.

The deadly virus has in the past few weeks been rapidly spreading and has been reported in over 16 countries worldwide, with one suspected case detected in Ivory Coast. The infection was suspected in a female student who arrived from China, making it the first case in Africa as of Tuesday.

“We have people travelling into the country from China and with the way the virus is spreading we cannot relax,” Nangombe stated, adding that it was on this basis that the ministry would introduce surveillance of travellers from China and screen as many people entering the country as they can.

“We have also designed a form that will require all those coming into the country to provide their recent travel history.”

He said the ministry will set up an isolation room or put up a makeshift tent at Hosea Kutako International Airport; an on standby ambulance and health practitioners are also being stationed at the airports and other entry points to ensure that any suspicion and detection is urgently addressed.

“We are also preparing the isolation ward in Central Hospital and ensuring that it is equipped to deal with and treat such cases should they occur.”

Although the ministry and its hospitals are short-staffed, Nangombe said the deadly virus is on their priority list and they have to gear up for it.

“What else can we do? We cannot sit back. We must deal with emergency detected as swiftly and soon as possible to keep this under control. And we have to put the nation at ease. With the country’s relations with China and the way the virus is continuing to spread we are really concerned,” he noted.

Kapofi told Confidente this week that his ministry is co-operating with the Health Ministry and leaning on them for advice on the way forward.

“For now, as a ministry we are listening to the Health Ministry’s advice. We are deploying masks per their instructions. We have put health practitioners at all entry points. There is not much that we can do because this is a health risk and therefore affects the Health Ministry [rather] than us. Health [Ministry] is responsible for putting measures in place and we are co-operating with them.”

Kapofi added that his ministry however welcomes all inputs and suggestions on any other measures that the Home Affairs and Immigration Ministry can put in place to ensure the safety and health of the nation.