Preparedness of Ports to respond to The Coronavirus outbreak

The impact of the deadly coronavirus outbreak is already being felt across the globe because many Chinese nationals travel across the world, either for business or leisure. Many other nationalities also travel to and from China for the same reasons.

Occasionally, African countries via maritime gateways, receives passenger liners with tourists from Asia among other continents. Furthermore African ports also receive cargo and fishing vessels with Asian seamen on board.

An outbreak of the deadly coronavirus could have a serious impact on port business and service delivery, as this would affect both domestic and cross-border trade.

Speaking in the case of Namibia, Namport Acting CEO Victor Ashikoto during an interview with the Namibian said: “This is because the cargo handled by Namport is not only for the domestic market, but also for the hinterland markets, specifically the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.”

Mr Ashikoto said Namport is fully prepared to assist the Namibian Ministry of Health should cases arise.

Speaking on Namport’s preparedness to counter the outbreak he said: “Before a vessel arrives on Namibian shores, the vessel’s agent is required to provide all background documentation to Namport about the last port of call, the number of passengers and the general conditions on board. Once a vessel docks, the port health officials under the health ministry screen all passengers before they disembark.”

He said any passenger suspected to be infected is isolated on board, and if need be, evacuated as per port health procedures.

In South Africa, Transnet is the custodian of ports and terminals in the country and it is responsible for monitoring all vessels. This is done through its divisions, the Transnet National Ports Authority and Transnet Port Terminals.
Transnet SOC Ltd has instituted strict health measures and is working with the Department of Health (DoH) and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) to monitor the outbreak.

In addition, the South African Health Department has activated an emergency operations centre to deal with the global outbreak of the Coronavirus.

Activation of the operations centre on South African shores means that there are dedicated staff working exclusively on the Coronavirus.

Speaking on the activation of the operations center The South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said: “These centres have been chosen for their ability to isolate, manage, contain and conduct research on suspected or confirmed cases of Coronavirus. This by no means suggests that other facilities do not have the ability to manage a suspected case that presents for the first time. It is simply a mechanism to ensure that we can centralise coordination and data collection.”

In Tanzania, Minister for Health, Community Development, Elderly and Children, Ms Ummy Mwalimu informed the National Assembly that in addition to launching care canters in the country in preparedness for the spread of the coronavirus, it has begun screening all airline and shipping passengers entering the country.

Whilst there were no suspected cases in the country, Ms Mwalimu mentioned that preparedness was vital key considering the fast pace of the spread of the disease which is transmitted from one person to another.

In Nigeria, the Heath Minister, Osagie Ehanire, at a meeting in Abuja to discuss the ourbreak of the disease and its impact on the country, said Nigeria has the capacity to detect, assess and respond in case the virus finds its way into the country.

Mr Ehanire said: “While the risk of importation exists, we can assure Nigerians of the nation’s capacity to detect, assess and respond to this and any other public health threats at the point of entry.”

Furthermore he said the federal government had dedicated funds to increase services of the ministry’s Port Health Services Unit.