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Burgersdorp outbreak: Eastern Cape Health MEC bemoans mass non-compliance of lockdown regulations

Burgersdorp outbreak: Eastern Cape Health MEC bemoans mass non-compliance of lockdown regulations
Eastern Cape MEC for Health Sindiswa Gomba. (Photo: Mandla Nduna / GCIS)

The people of the Eastern Cape were in ‘level one’ before anyone else, according to Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, who has warned about noncompliance with lockdown regulations. Gomba provided an update on a mass outbreak of Covid-19 in Burgersdorp in the province that has now spread to Middelburg. More than 100 people have tested positive for the virus in Burgersdorp and the department is awaiting another 103 test results for Middelburg.

“The people of the Eastern Cape made their own Level 1 before the country hit Level 1,” said the province’s Health MEC, Sindiswa Gomba, on Tuesday in response to a coronavirus outbreak at a school in Burgersdorp.

She detailed how an initial small outbreak of fewer than 20 pupils had now escalated to 102 people in Burgersdorp and another 60 in Middelburg.

“The sad news of massive outbreaks of Covid-19 under learners from Ethembeni Senior Secondary School and Maletswai Primary School in Burgersdorp and Ekuphumleni High School in Middleburg came at a time when the numbers of the pandemic countrywide were reported to be decreasing daily.

“The Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize once alluded that we are not yet out of the woods, the second surge of the virus might get us when our guards are down. Following the outbreak, the Department of Health has since conducted a risk assessment where initially 20 learners in Burgersdorp were infected.”

She said 750 pupils and teachers had been tested at Ethembeni High School. Of those, 102 pupils, one teacher and 26 community members tested positive for Covid-19. Eight pupils had recovered and had been discharged from the isolation site. Four pupils tested positive at Emzimkhulu Primary School. The results of a further 103 tests were expected soon. 

In Middelburg, 23 pupils from Ekuphumleni High School, 10 from Middeland High school, two From Nonyaniso Primary school and 25 community members tested positive.

Gomba said people have been playing soccer and “going on about their chores” as usual, even before President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would progress to Level 1 of lockdown from Sunday.

Ramaphosa ordered the national lockdown in March after the first cases of coronavirus infections were reported in South Africa. Restrictive measures have been lifted gradually since, as the number of infections in the country dropped. 

Despite the outbreak, Gomba said she believed the province “managed to climb the mountain”.

“Our guards are not down. We have not dismantled our teams. We are strengthening them to keep on looking for cases. We are still seeing the loss of lives.”

Those who tested positive were taken into quarantine in state facilities in Aliwal North and Steynsburg, except for an elderly person who was isolated in hospital.

The Health MEC urged communities to obey lockdown regulations.

Eastern Cape MEC for Education Fundile Gade. (Photo: Mandla Nduna / GCIS)

Fundile Gade, the Education MEC, said the outbreak had opened the government’s eyes on how to manage Covid-19. 

“The environment is a bit intoxicated with ill-discipline,” he said, adding that they suspected taverns had not complied with lockdown regulations.

“Education is a microcosm of society. It is a mirror. [The outbreak] should not have happened and should have been properly managed.”

News of the outbreak came as core Eastern Cape Education Department staff were being called back.

Gade said 154 matrics had not returned to school, for a variety of reasons.

“Some are ill, some have not returned due to the anxiety and fears of their parents and some fell pregnant during lockdown.” 

The plight of three matrics, who are writing their trial exams, was a concern; Gomba said his department would ask the national department to consider alternative assessments for the pupils. 

Burgersdorp has about 15,000 residents, including those living in its two townships, Mzamomhle and Tembisa, on the outskirts of the town.

Three smaller outbreaks in old age homes in the Joe Gqabi Municipality, including Burgersdorp, include 37 cases and five deaths in the Dirk Postma old age home in Burgersdorp, 29 in Huis van der Horst in Aliwal North and three at the Barkley East Diens Sentrum. There had also been a small outbreak at the Burgersdorp prison.

The district has the lowest number of tests in the province at only 9,941 (2.4% of the provincial tally of tests) but the highest positivity rate at 29.2%. The provincial positivity rate is 21%. MC

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  • Kate Alexander says:

    Estelle, thanks for this article. But there are many questions left unanswered. If the MECs were aware of the problem of people not wearing masks, what they do about it? What action is being taken against the principles? What’s happened to pupils, teachers and community members who were in contact with the 129+ people infected? Are they in quarantine? What assurance is there that this won’t happen elsewhere in the country? Where are the voices of the teachers, pupils and community activists? What are the implications of this for what DM called ‘the great schools argument?’ Were the schools practicing social distancing and rotation? Has the DA changed its position? Please stick with this story Estelle. You’ve only done half the job.

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