Some South Africans who were supposed to return with 114 citizens from Wuhan, China, pulled out at the last minute, Department of Health spokesperson Popo Maja told News24 on Saturday.
Maja was speaking on Saturday just moments after a South African Airways chartered Airbus A340-642 touched down at Polokwane International Airport with the evacuees from the Chinese city.
Initially it was thought that 122 citizens would be repatriated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus, but several people decided to remain behind.
The group that did return was accompanied by 18 crew members, 14 members of a medical team and three embassy officials.
Maja said some South Africans had decided to stay in China.
He did not elaborate on the reasons why they had pulled out of the repatriation process.
Remaining in Wuhan
“114 South African citizens came today, from 152, which was the original number. During the week we also talked about the number 121, but the number that has now arrived is 114.
“These are citizens who decided to come [while] some of them, at the last minute, decided they do not want to come back and are happy with what’s happening in Wuhan,” Maja told News24.
Four buses transported the evacuees from the airport to Protea Hotel’s The Ranch Resort, which is situated just 25km outside Polokwanes CBD.
The group, including staff from the lodge, will be in quarantine at the venue for 21 days. The rescue team and SANDF members who assisted in the process will also be quarantined.
Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba said it was an emotional day watching the group landing back home.
The MEC said the province would continue engaging with various structures so that residents could understand why the repatriation mission was important.
She added that it was important to always keep in mind that the evacuees were not infected with the virus.
“I am humbled and touched by so many South Africans who have been rallying towards this mission. We might have had other issues raised, they have been addressed. We are happy and welcoming our people. It will be along 21 days, but we will overcome,” she said.
Ramathuba said the province would continue educating the public about the virus, advising the on what they should and shouldn’t do to ensure they do not contract or spread the virus.