Quarantine capacity not a problem with returnees, communication is – health dept

Picture for illustration. SANDF soldiers guarding the entrance to The Ranch Resort where the repatriated South Africans from Wuhan will be quarantined, 13 March 2020, Polokwane. Picture: Jacques Nelles

‘Nobody should be stranded at our airports, because there has to be timely communication channels within all spheres of government, before people land in the country.’

Strengthening of communication channels and coordination among key government departments was crucial in averting glitches, like this week’s incident in which nearly 200 South Africans repatriated from the United States were for hours left stranded upon landing at OR Tambo International Airport, according to national department of health spokesperson Popo Maja.

Although department of public works and infrastructure (DPWI) Minister Patricia de Lille blamed the fiasco on health for failure to give the DPWI advance notice, Maja said the delays in resettling returnees should not recur.

Asked to explain the inter-departmental process, Maja said: “While we cannot run away from the fact that there have been challenges in the management of quarantine sites, nobody should be stranded at our airports, because there has to be a timely communication channels within all spheres of government, before people land in the country.

“When stranded South African are abroad, it is a matter for the department of international relations and cooperation. When they have arrive in SA, it becomes a matter for the DPWI to ensure they are accommodated in quarantine sites.

“As the department, our role is to assess and certify whether quarantine facilities meet health standards – providing technical expertise.

“A quarantine site where people are placed to be observed for a period of time is not a health facility.

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“We do not test people at quarantine sites. They are only tested if a clinician is of the opinion that they present Covid-19 symptoms.”

He added: “We are spending taxpayers’ money on quarantine sites and people should not expect five-star hotel treatment.

“The earlier use of the Ranch Hotel in Limpopo to repatriate those from Wuhan in China was exceptional, because government had to manage stigma and fear associated with the coronavirus.”

Dispelling as untrue a perception that the country had a shortage of quarantine sites, DPWI spokesperson Zara Nicholson said South Africa had 1,418 proposed sites, representing more than 109,000 beds countrywide. Of these, 636 were state-owned facilities and 782 were privately owned.

“There is no shortage of quarantine facilities and the DPWI has not requested Dirco to delay repatriations,” said Nicholson. “All we need is 72 hours’ notice as per the agreed time frame to procure a site, in line with the necessary processes.

“To date, 328 facilities, representing 24,884 beds, have been assessed and are compliant, according to health standards.

“Of these, 114 facilities have been activated, representing 11,685 beds available for quarantine requirements.

“Some of the 5,443 who have been quarantined in recent weeks, have been discharged as they were cleared after the 14-day incubation period.”

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