The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) has noted what it calls the disturbing stigmatisation against people in South Africa from coronavirus-affected areas, which now includes Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
The institute has said this persists despite there being no confirmed case of the virus in South Africa.
“Stigma has the potential to drive people to hide their illness to avoid discrimination and further prevent people from seeking healthcare. This can lead to difficulties in identifying and controlling the spread of COVID-19 should it reach our shores,” said the NICD in a statement.
As of 2 March 2020, the NICD tested a total of 160 persons for SARS-CoV-2 of which 109 met the case definition for persons under investigation (PUI). All results have thus far been negative, meaning South Africa has not had a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19.
“Given that COVID-19 is a new disease, it is understandable that its emergence and possible importation into South Africa may cause confusion, anxiety and fear among the general public; however, viruses do not target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds.
“We urge the public to desist from participating in stereotyping and discriminating against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation.”
What to do if you have travelled and developed symptoms:
The NICD issued an advisory calling on anyone who may develop symptoms of the coronavirus either or during and after recent travel to countries where COVID-19 is known to be circulating to seek medical care early and share information about their travel history with their healthcare providers.
Symptoms include; respiratory illness including cough, fever and shortness of breath.
As of 24 February the virus is known to be circulating in mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy.
The General Public Hotline Number for South Africa is 0800 029 999 and operates on weekdays, Monday to Friday, from 8am to 4pm.
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(Compiled by Kaunda Selisho)