JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South Africa will evacuate 151 citizens from the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan within days, the health minister said on Sunday (March 1), as the death toll and number of infected worldwide mounted.
The virus has spread to more than 60 countries around the globe - killing nearly 3,000 people and sickening 87,000 - prompting the World Health Organisation to raise its risk assessment to its highest level.
The decision to airlift the trapped South Africans came after President Cyril Ramaphosa last Thursday directed the repatriation of those who have asked to return home.
"We were asked by the President to start the process immediately - (so) within seven to 10 days (the evacuation team) must have completed the task," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.
The minister told a news conference at the country's main O.R. Tambo International Airport that there were 201 South Africans in Wuhan - the epicentre of the virus, and that "151 have indicated they want to be repatriated".
The group will be kept in quarantine for 21 days at a site that the authorities have refused to disclose.
"The people we are bringing in are South Africans who are healthy and as far as we are concerned, are not infected," Mr Mkhize said.
The repatriation process will be executed by the military.
South Africa will be the latest country to extricate its nationals from Wuhan, where the deadly coronavirus outbreak first emerged in December.
Until Friday, when a case was detected in Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa had largely escaped the fast-spreading epidemic.