By JULIAN JACOBS and SUE MACLENNAN
The Emergency Medical Services ambulance depot in Makhanda is closed and nearly half its staff have been ordered to self isolate at home for 14 days, after two employees received positive Covid-19 test results this week. While an EMS employee believes this situation could have been avoided had the department acted more quickly in providing personal protective equipment, the Department of Health said appropriate PPE was always issued and has urged against the ‘blame game’.
The full staff complement of 69 was tested for the coronavirus on 6 May and yesterday, shortly after the two were informed of their status, the depot was closed. Tonight at the base, the lights were on and a number of ambulances were parked at the depot; however, sources later confirmed to Grocott’s Mail that no personnel were there and that no EMS shift had been on duty in Makhanda since 4pm on Friday.
Spokesperson for the Department of Health in the Eastern Cape Sizwe Kupelo confirmed the two EMS cases and the closure of the depot; however, he said this was unlikely to affect emergency medical services in Makhanda.
“The ambulance services from Makhanda and Ndlambe local municipal areas will also be available to assist as usual,” Kupelo told Grocott’s Mail.
In Makana, private ambulance services have previously stepped in to fill the gap.
“Only the staff which were in contact with the two… have been placed in isolation for a period of 14 days. The rest of the staff are continuing to work their shifts as usual,” Kupelo said.
“All staff were tested on 6 May 2020, and their results are negative, except for those two.”
There are 14 members per shift at the Makhanda base and Grocott’s Mail understands that two full shifts are self isolating at home, despite their negative status at the time of testing. As a result, the remaining two shifts may have to work overtime.
The Department of Health is tracing contacts of the two staff members and will have the base decontaminated. Grocott’s Mail understands that the old Netcare ambulance depot at Settlers Hospital is being investigated as a possible temporary base.
An EMS employee who spoke on condition they were not named said staff were very worried.
“It hurts,” said the employee. “When the lockdown was announced to stop people moving around and spreading the virus, we in essential services didn’t have an option: we had to work.”
But there had been inadequate provision of personal protective equipment, the employee said.
“We raised the issue of personal protection even before coronavirus. If our work is essential, why weren’t we given personal protective equipment (PPE) from the start? We are paying for this now with our lives.”
The Daily Maverick reported that during President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to Nelson Mandela Bay on Thursday, DoH superintendent-general Dr Thobile Mbengashe said the Department was addressing shortcomings in its management of PPE.
Grocott’s Mail asked the Department of Health what PPE had been issued to EMS staff in Makana.
“Appropriate PPEs are always issued,” Kupelo said.
“However, Covid-19 is very contageous and frontline staff across the world are at risk of contracting it, despite being issued with appropriate PPE.”
Kupelo said 58 DoH officials, including five in the head office, were infected with the coronavirus.
“The staff members must isolate and within 14 days they may recover,” Kupelo said. “Some people get infected but not sick.”
Kupelo said the blame game had no place in this crisis.
“We urge everyone to play their role in the fight against this pandemic. We wish all those infected a speedy recovery.”
* This article was updated at midday Sunday 17 May to include a response from the DoH regarding PPE, as well as further comment.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Vulnerable groups are elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE CORONAVIRUS
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should alert your nearest medical facility for testing. The COVID-19 hotline number is 0800 029 999 and for more details about how to self isolate you can visit: http://www.health.gov.za/index.php/outbreaks/145-corona-virus-outbreak/465-corona-virus-outbreak
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