Coronavirus- Durban man shares eerie encounter

As news of the deadly Coronavirus spreads across the globe, a Durban man, teaching English in Hangzhou, describes the eerie streets of a city on lockdown and researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) prepare for the potential of a Coronavirus outbreak in Durban.

By Danica Hansen, North Glen News, February 22, 2020

By Danica Hansen, North Glen News, February 22, 2020, Dr Richard Lessells (KRISP), Dr Nithendra Manickchund, a specialist from King Edward Hospital's department of infectious diseases, Professor Tulio De Oliveria (KRISP) and Dr Nonkukhanya Mdlalose

UKZN hosted a seminar about coronavirus last month: Dr Richard Lessells (KRISP), Dr Nithendra Manickchund, a specialist from King Edward Hospital's department of infectious diseases, Professor Tulio De Oliveria (KRISP) and Dr Nonkukhanya Mdlalose from the National Health Lab Service.

'The streets were desolate, all the shops and restaurants were closed. The few people who were there were wearing masks and the security guards at my flat were checking people’s temperatures as they came in,' English teacher, Matthew Beukes told the Northglen News.

Hallmark symptoms of the virus are fever and a cough and the virus seems to spread mainly by respiratory droplets, said infectious disease specialist, Dr Richard Lessells from the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), a research centre at UKZN in the College of Health Sciences.

'These are obviously common symptoms, so people shouldn’t be concerned unless they have been travelling to China or the one of the neighbouring countries where there are cases. Or if they have been in contact with somebody who is a confirmed case,' added Lessells.

For Beukes, lockdown presents another threat- a shortening supply of food. The English teacher, flew to Thailand soon after the outbreak made headlines across the world.

'I decided to leave when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) quarantined the entire province of Hubei. That’s a population larger than the entire country of South Africa, locked down. That was as impressive as it was shocking and I realised the panic, quarantines, potential food and supply shortages could pose an even greater risk than the virus itself. If I go back to Hangzhou now I will be put into quarantine for 14 days. After that, I, like everyone else in Hangzhou, will get three tickets per week for one person per household to leave the house to go shopping. So I won’t be going back until this all blows over and hopefully that will be very soon,' he added.

Also read: Health facilities on high alert to deal with Coronavirus

No cases close to home

China’s quarantines have curbed the spread of the virus, and while there have been no confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in South Africa or anywhere near Africa, local researchers are preparing for any potential threats.

'We were bringing together our research group and laboratory specialist who are preparing for the potential introduction of this virus to South Africa. We are preparing for what we would do in Durban and KwaZulu-Natal if it arrives here,' said Lessells.

He and colleague, Professor Tulio De Oliveria were among a panel of speakers who shared their insights at UKZN’s Nelson Mandela School of Medicine on Friday, 14 February. They were joined by Dr Nonkukhanya Mdlalose from the National Health Lab Service and Dr Nithendra Manickchund, a specialist from King Edward Hospital’s department of infectious diseases.

Genetic research

Lessells gave an overview about the current status of the epedemic which has claimed over 1000 lives in more than 60 000 confirmed cases. He detailed what is known about the disease (COVID-19) and the tools and methods that can be used by the scientific community to fight it.

'By using the genetics or genomics, it can help to track the outbreak as well as help scientists to understand how they might develop drugs, diagnostic tests and vaccines for the virus,' said Lessells.

'When you’re looking at the genome, you’re just looking at the genetic material, the RNA or the DNA. What was picked up very early here was that this was very similar to the previous Coronavirus from the SARS epedemic of 2003. That was what led to this being named a similar virus, because it’s very closely related, and it’s also what has allowed people to understand where this virus came from to be introduced into humans,' he added.

While research to help combatt the virus continues, it is certain that this outbreak of Coronavirus has come from bats, as the primary host.

'But there’s probably an intermediate host between the bats and the humans, which may be the pangolin. This is yet to be confirmed,' said Lessells.

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News date: 2020-02-22


KRISP has been created by the coordinated effort of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) and the South African Medical Research Countil (SAMRC).

Location: K-RITH Tower Building
Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN
719 Umbilo Road, Durban, South Africa.
Director: Prof. Tulio de Oliveira