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Whither Covid-19? An interview with SA’s chief virus hunter

By Mark Heywood 12 March 2020

Professor Lynn Morris has a lifetime of experience fighting viruses. In her last 27 years at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, she has encountered HIV, Ebola, TB, Listeria, Klebsiella and a multitude of ‘lesser’ pathogens. She thinks that Covid-19 presents one of the greatest challenges yet to both South Africa and the world.

On Wednesday, 11 March, Maverick Citizen Editor Mark Heywood met Professor Lynn Morris at her offices at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg to take stock of where we are with regards to Covid-19, what the NICD is doing and what should be the key messages to the country.

South Africa is fortunate to have an NICD and its staff of experts in communicable disease, virology and epidemiology. Strange though it may seem to say, we are also fortunate that we have learnt lessons from the prevention of HIV, Tuberculosis (TB) and most recently, listeriosis. As a result, when in early January 2020, the outbreak of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China, caught the attention of health authorities around the world, South Africa had a world-class institution, systems and skilled people ready to kick into overdrive.