Why screening at SA airports won't do much to stop coronavirus

Business Insider SA
Health personnel monitors body temperature of pass
Health personnel monitors body temperature of passengers who arrived in a flight from Milano, Italy to Krakow Airport in Balice, Poland on February 26, 2020. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • Screening at South African airports will do little to stop the spread of coronavirus, the Covid-19 virus, an infectious diseases expert believes. 
  • Some individuals are asymptomatic, or take up to ten days to show any symptoms. 
  • South African authorities have stepped up screening at airports in a bid to stop the virus from spreading locally. 
  • For more stories go to

Screening at South African airports will do little to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus – and it's just a coincidence that the virus behind Covid-19 has not yet spread locally, the head of University of Pretoria’s infectious diseases department believes.

The South African health department has stepped up screening at international airports, in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

Coronavirus, or the Covid-19 virus, has so far killed more than 3,000 people and infected 90,000 in more than 60 countries since it was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December.

Thus far 45,702 people have been reported to have recovered, from the virus for which there is no cure or vaccine. 

Also read: SA’s summery weather may be keeping coronavirus at bay, experts believe

Professor Anton Stoltz, the University of Pretoria’s head of the infectious diseases department, said screening for body temperatures at ports of entry is neither accurate nor a good indication of infection. 

“Asymptomatic cases do not have increased body temperature and it can be missed,” Stoltz told Business Insider South Africa. 

Dr Kerrigan McCarthy, from the department of health’s coronavirus response team, explained that the incubation period, or time it takes the virus to show symptoms, is currently believed to be five days. 

But this can range anywhere from two-and-a-half days to ten days, which is why 14 days is currently the advised quarantine period for suspected cases, McCarthy said. 

This means that, hypothetically, a virus-carrying individual can enter South Africa without showing symptoms, and spread the virus locally. 

Also read: A fist bump – instead of a handshake – can reduce your chance of bacterial transfer by up to 90%

Business Insider previously reported that an asymptomatic individual with the virus, or someone who does not show symptoms yet, can spread the virus.

Asymptomatic individuals, however, appear to be an anomaly, accounting for 1.2% of those infected based on available data. 

Dr Sibongile Walaza of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said as there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Africa, it is difficult to say if screening at ports of entry has stopped the virus. 

“However, the screening programme that they have put in place should assist in picking up symptomatic people at point of entry into South Africa,” Walaza told Business Insider South Africa.

Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo