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By Martin Williams

Councillor at City


Gauteng’s Covid-19 bungles are a disaster and insult

Right now, be aware that the incompetent administration which killed 143 Life Esidimeni patients is floundering over Covid-19.


What’s the point of testing for Covid-19 if staff don’t mark specimens, or if there is a 10- day to three-week wait for results? This is happening in Gauteng where, in the 10 days to Monday, active cases increased by 5,286. This is more than double the Western Cape figure for the period. Jack Bloom, Gauteng health spokesperson, says people tested in Tembisa on 22 May, received results three weeks later. In Gauteng’s worst-hit area, ward 58 Johannesburg, test results are outstanding for more than 10 days. In that ward, “health inspectors wishing to trace contacts are frustrated as they…

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What’s the point of testing for Covid-19 if staff don’t mark specimens, or if there is a 10- day to three-week wait for results?

This is happening in Gauteng where, in the 10 days to Monday, active cases increased by 5,286. This is more than double the Western Cape figure for the period.

Jack Bloom, Gauteng health spokesperson, says people tested in Tembisa on 22 May, received results three weeks later. In Gauteng’s worst-hit area, ward 58 Johannesburg, test results are outstanding for more than 10 days.

In that ward, “health inspectors wishing to trace contacts are frustrated as they are told that testing specimens were not marked”.

Amazing. Remember, targeted test groups include those with flu-like symptoms, people over 60 and those with comorbid chronic conditions (like diabetes, asthma and TB). This means vulnerable people leave home to mingle with others at risk. And organisers can’t be bothered to ensure samples are labelled.

What an insult to those tested. And to the nationwide Covid-19 effort. On Monday, there was a backlog of 23,000 tests in Gauteng. The national backlog was 63,000. There is no officially available figure for the number of unmarked test samples.

Gauteng claims to have screened 7,458,034 people – about half the province’s population, – and traced 100% of 17,713 contacts. Bloom says “these figures are frankly not credible”.

Agreed. Especially on the tracing, which must be far behind if 23,000 test results are outstanding and there is an unknown number of unmarked tests. Untraced contacts could die without being reached.

So, unmarked test samples are useless. Delayed results are not much better. If results are not back within 24 hours or maximum 48 hours, their usefulness fades.

Covid-19 incubation can be up to 14 days but is mostly between four and nine days. There is uncertainty about when infected people are most infectious and whether asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people are big spreaders.

Accurately labelled tests with timeous results could help answer such questions. An undiagnosed infectious person can potentially infect many others.

Thus, unmarked specimens and delayed results undermine the government’s declared strategy of screening, testing and tracing contacts.

Inefficiency is the trademark of Gauteng’s Covid-19 response. That’s not Bloom’s comment, it’s mine, based on the above facts and some experience of what goes on behind the scenes at what is called mass Covid-19 community testing.

Some of those in charge couldn’t organise a booze-up in a brewery. Feeling the increasing pressure of a curve that refuses to flatten, they’ve hurriedly devised a scheme to make councillors responsible for – but not in charge of – official Covid-19 responses.

There is cross-party resistance by councillors. More about that another time.

Right now, be aware that the incompetent administration which killed 143 Esidimeni patients is floundering over Covid-19.

This is no time to relax personal precautions. Take great care. Unlike provincial authorities.

Martin Williams, DA councillor and former editor of The Citizen.

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