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Eastern Cape health officials plead with residents to cooperate with contact tracing and testing teams

Sister Annette Knoesen and Josephine Kumalo during a mass Covid-19 screening in Nelson Mandela Bay. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

While the anticipated third wave of Covid-19 infections has not yet hit the Eastern Cape, health officials said this week that they are having trouble getting residents to cooperate with their tracing teams, who screen and test the close contacts of patients who tested positive for the virus.

As Covid-19 cases continue to increase in the Eastern Cape, the MEC for health in the province, Nomakhosazana Meth, has urged communities to work with officials doing contact tracing.

“The lack of cooperation has particularly been on the rise in Nelson Mandela Bay, Sarah Baartman District (including Jeffreys Bay, St Francis Bay, Humansdorp and large parts of the Karoo) and Inxuba Yethemba (based in Cradock) in the Chris Hani District,” she said.

“This is worrying, especially since the regions have a high number of active cases. In Nelson Mandela Bay, problematic areas are Summerstrand, Walmer, Lorraine, Sunridge Pak, Gelvan Park, Malabar and Humewood, which have been identified as Covid-19 hotspot areas. Residents in these areas have not been welcoming, at times rudely preventing officials from carrying out their duties.

“Without proper tracing, people who might have come into contact with people who tested positive, might go around spreading the virus unknowingly.

“This is why we urge everyone to work with our dedicated and hard-working officials on the ground, who are trying to ensure we do everything in our power to stop the further spread of Covid-19.

“It is our duty to ensure we play our part. We need communities to play their part. Refusing the tracking team entry into your property is certainly not helping. We understand there might be safety concerns, but instead of refusing officials entry, rather ask for their identification or call their superior,” she said.

“We need everyone to act in a responsible manner as we have all seen the misery and devastation that has been caused by Covid-19. People should continue to physically distance, wear masks and regularly wash their hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitiser,” she said. 

A technician from the Department of Health busy with Covid-19 testing. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

A nurse on one of the tracking teams, Nomfanelo Tafu, said they encounter people who refuse to provide their details after testing positive for Covid-19. 

“We must trace where they were working, their close contacts and where they are living. We want to screen and test everybody. But many people now refuse testing,” she said. 

“The second wave was a scary time for all of us. I had Covid-19, too. But this time at least it will be easier because I have been vaccinated,” she said. 

Another nurse, Ncebakazi Qoba, said people pretend they are not at home when the tracing teams arrive.

“You can see their car is there and the windows are open, but they will just ignore you,” she said. “They refuse to open doors and gates. They refuse to see us even if we just want to fill in a form.”

She said some people promise that they will see their own doctor if they develop symptoms. 

The executive mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Nqaba Bhanga, confirmed last week that the metro – the centre of the second wave after a variant of the coronavirus was first discovered here – has seen an increase in active Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions.

The variant, known as N501.V2, has mutated to make it more contagious than the coronavirus that was first identified in China. The variant was first identified in Nelson Mandela Bay and is currently the dominant variant in the country. 

Inside the mobile testing unit used for Covid-19 testing. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Bhanga said the increase in cases was a cause for concern as the numbers had passed the 100 mark in the last two weeks. On 17 May, the metro had 154 active cases. But since then the number has shot up to 568, with 184 new cases in one day. Two weeks ago, there were 13 new cases a day.

“There is a threat of a possible third wave and we need residents to work with all of us to prevent this from happening. The numbers are going in the wrong direction,” Bhanga said.

Disaster management chairperson Shane Brown said law enforcement officers had noticed that residents were walking around and gathering in groups without wearing their masks.

“We are really worried that people seem to have stopped wearing their masks. Our law enforcement agencies will intensify enforcement in this area. We cannot afford to have a third wave – that is why we are urging residents to remember that Covid-19 is not over,” said Brown.

“More importantly, we are calling on all residents who are 60 and over to register and vaccinate. The roll-out has started. I took the vaccine on Monday and I am feeling well. Getting vaccinated is really the only way we can get some kind of normalcy back in our lives. 

“The roll-out will take some time; it will not be an overnight process but we need as many people as possible to get vaccinated,” Brown added. DM/MC

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