South Africa has assisted China with protective gear and medical equipment in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Mainland China is reeling from the outbreak, as 560 people have succumbed to the virus, declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation. An estimated 27 300 people are believed to be infected in China alone, as the health commission in Hubei confirmed 2 987 new cases on Thursday.
As a result, China is looking to make speedy cargo acquisitions where possible. Dube TradePort confirmed its cargo terminal and the Airports Company of SA (Acsa) worked with local freight forwarders and Air China to ensure that a 100-ton capacity freighter airlifted over 50 tons of medical face masks to China on Wednesday evening.
The consignment included 2.8 million face masks from KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng suppliers, “bought by the Chinese government…”.
It was consolidated and processed through the Dube Cargo Terminal at Durban’s King Shaka International Airport and was loaded on specially chartered freighters destined for Guangzhou, China. Dube Cargo Terminal says it is geared to service “another freighter later in the week, as part of the same shipment of medical equipment and face masks headed to China”.
The initial flight caused quite a stir in the aviation community, who had spotted it on FlightRadar24, raising health concerns.
Terence Delomoney, General Manager of the airport, said: “We understood the situation immediately and together with the relevant airport stakeholders, a plan was implemented. The priority was to ensure the safety of the staff facilitating the aircraft.
“As the aircraft landed empty, only to pick up cargo, all teams were fully trained, briefed and equipped with the necessary PPE [personal protective equipment], and the Department of Health took the lead to ensure that the aircraft and crew were properly screened.
“As the airport, we are very pleased to be part of this operation and to positively contribute towards helping to curb the spread of this virus.”
The proximity to suppliers and the available capacity to handle charter flights that require rapid airlift is what led Air China to initiate a direct flight from Guangzhou, China, to Durban for this airlift, said Mlibo Bantwini, an executive of Dube Cargo Terminal.
Automation and staff training have allowed Dube turnaround times of 20 minutes, Bantwini said.
“The equipment we have in place allows us to work seamlessly from loading, processing and scanning of all cargo, allowing us to find efficiencies to handle additional aircraft with the same team and still achieve the same excellent service.”