Police to escort EC Covid tracing teams after robberies

HAMPERING FIGHT: As Covid-19 cases rise in Nelson Mandela Bay, a fourth health department testing and tracing vehicle was hijacked in Kwazakhele

Police officers will be escorting Covid-19 tracking and tracing teams in certain areas of Nelson Mandela Bay following attacks on four testing teams working for the Eastern Cape department of health.

This comes at a time when Covid-19 infections continue to rise in the Bay — with 200 to 300 new cases registered daily.

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha, said tracing teams were vital in saving lives and delays caused by criminals affected the programme aimed at finding those who had contracted the virus.

“The department of health needs to work with the [police] to protect these teams,” Sicwetsha said.

Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said the hijacking of department-owned testing and tracing vehicles and the robbery of department officials was thwarting efforts to stem the resurgence of the virus in the Port Elizabeth area.

According to Manana, during the latest attack, the vehicle was later recovered by police with all four of its wheels missing.

In that incident, the testing and tracing vehicle was robbed at gunpoint in Ward 19, Kwazakhele, on Friday.

“The tracing team trace and monitor newly diagnosed Covid-19 patients and their contacts as well as provide basic primary health care services within communities and the  delivery of medication to chronic patients.

“They assess the suitability of the home environment for safe isolation, quarantine and to refer community members appropriately.

“We now have one team without transport and this causes a delay in the teams’ response time to community members,” Manana said.

He said staff that experienced trauma were referred for trauma debriefing and psychosocial support that is provided through a psychologist or social worker.

The recently hijacked team which comprised of five staff members were not at work on Monday Manana said.

He said the teams were helping the very same communities that were harming, robbing, hijacking and traumatising them.

“The safety of our staff is paramount and if their lives are continually put at risk we will have no choice but to withdraw their services in known high-risk areas.

“The department is, however, working with the security cluster to ensure the safety of our teams,” Manana said.

He said Nelson Mandela metro was notorious for robberies of emergency medical services staff members with areas like New Brighton and Kwazakhele hotspots for those incidents in the past

Eastern Cape health MEC  Sindiswa Gomba pleaded with communities to protect health department staff.

Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu confirmed that on Friday at 2.45pm department of health officials were visiting Covid-19 patients in the New Brighton and Kwazakele areas when they were robbed.

They were robbed in a house in Tsotsobe Street in Kwazakele Extension 1.

She said it was alleged that the nurses were in a bedroom with a patient when two males entered the room.

“One man was armed with a firearm, they robbed them as well as the owner of the house of their cellphones and personal belongings.

“Their vehicle, a Chev Aveo was also taken. The vehicle was found abandoned about 2km away.

“One shot was fired by the suspects in the kitchen and  one was injured in the robbery,” Naidu said.

Naidu said to ensure the safety of officials in those areas a roster of when they were working would be provided to the police in advance.

“The police will assist by escorting them to ensure their safety while working,” Naidu said.

By Simtembile Mgidi

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