The Diamond Princess cruise ship, top centre, is seen off the port of Yokohama, Japan, on February 5 2020. Picture: AFP/KAZUHIRO NOGI
The Diamond Princess cruise ship, top centre, is seen off the port of Yokohama, Japan, on February 5 2020. Picture: AFP/KAZUHIRO NOGI

Two South Africans who were working on board the Princess Diamond cruise ship when it was affected by the coronavirus have been infected.

Lwazi Manzi, the spokesperson for health minister Zweli Mkhize, said in a statement that 12 SA crew members were working on board the ship when it was affected by the virus, known as Covid-19.

“On 25 February 2020, we were informed by the Japanese authorities that two of these South Africans tested positive for Covid-19. They are currently being treated in Japan and the latest reports indicate that they are currently asymptomatic,” Manzi said.

This news comes as President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the repatriation of SA citizens from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the epidemic that has disrupted global trade and hammered financial markets.

The South Africans have been confined to Wuhan since mid-January after Chinese authorities imposed a strict quarantine to try to contain the spread of the virus. There were 199 South Africans estimated to be in Wuhan, and 132 of them had expressed a desire to be repatriated, the president said in a statement issued on Thursday evening. They would be quarantined for 21 days, he said, but did not disclose the location nor when they would arrive.

“Cabinet has decided on this course of action after due consideration of the circumstances and following several requests from the families of South Africans in the city,” said Ramaphosa.

None of the affected people had been diagnosed with the virus or shown any symptoms of the disease, he said.

“The 21 days is all inclusive of arrivals and leaving the quarantine area and administration to ensure there is a clear 14-day period of actual quarantine,” said Manzi.

Many countries have managed to contain the virus, but in the past fortnight several countries, including Japan, Italy, South Korea and Iran, have confronted larger outbreaks. Iran has confirmed 139 cases and 19 deaths, the highest number of fatalities reported outside China.

On Thursday, World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged nations to ensure they were adequately prepared, as for the second consecutive day the number of confirmed cases reported outside China exceeded those reported inside China.

“No country should assume they won’t get coronavirus,” said Tedros, emphasising that rapid and aggressive containment measures could prevent imported cases or small clusters of disease turning into extensive and sustained community transmission.

The transmission of the coronavirus within countries beyond China’s borders has heightened the concern over the spread of the disease to Africa, which has so far confirmed only three cases — one in Egypt a fortnight ago, another in Algeria on Wednesday, and Nigeria confirmed the first case of Covid-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa on Friday. Brazil confirmed Latin America’s first case on Wednesday.

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