Municipalities should offer their facilities at South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) pay points to prevent Covid-19 super-spreader events, said the chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Social Development, Mondli Gungubele.
He expressed concern over the “cumbersome” queues outside many Sassa offices.
With trimmed down numbers of staff available due to Covid-19, over 200,000 people lost their temporary disability benefit at the end of December when the extensions invoked during the lockdown ended on 31 December.
People are also queuing in the hopes of getting other grants to help themselves and their families.
This has led to people sleeping outside Sassa offices in the hopes of getting to the front of the queue amid backlogs.
Gungubele expressed concern over the potential for a Covid-19 super-spreader situation due to the apparent non-adherence to social distancing while people queue.
“Super-spreader” incidents are when clusters of new positive Covid-19 tests are traced back to a specific gathering.
The Western Cape health department said it would be monitoring its reports of new Covid-19 cases to establish whether new clusters of cases were linked to the situation outside Sassa offices.
The province’s social development department had been in talks with the national social development department in an attempt to find a solution.
Black Sash had called for another extension of the grants until the backlog was cleared. Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu stated that the department could not afford the R1.2 billion this would cost.
Gungubele called for a system of managing the “cumbersome” queues that “eliminates human contact”.
“The queues, as evidenced today, could potentially expose vulnerable people to Covid-19 and its new variant. Social distancing, regular hand washing and mask wearing are proven control mechanisms for the deadly virus when used together,” a statement issued on his behalf said.
He noted Sassa’s proposed interventions which included a booking system, maintaining queue management at all pay points, provision of health services and allocating different days for different grant types.
However, he felt more needed to be done.
He called on people to use the booking or appointment system as facilitated by Sassa to protect themselves against Covid-19.
“At this time, we need municipalities to provide facilities for Sassa use as pay points. This is a generous and reasonable act for municipalities, especially during this time of need for our people,” he was quoted as saying.
On Wednesday, Sassa Western Cape spokesperson Shivani Wahab said applicants had to go into the offices to get an appointment for their new medical assessment because a planned rollout of an online system stalled last year due to the pandemic.
Gungubele called on Sassa to beef up communications around the plans to deal with the current problems, especially in hotspot communities.