Shop cashiers, cops and guards the most infected says W Cape Head of Health

Spar workers at the Khayelitsha Mall demand to be tested for Covid-19 after two of their colleagues tested positive. Archive photo by Lilita Gcwabe

Clusters of workers in essential services, in supermarkets especially, have tested positive for covid-19.

Dr Keith Cloete, the Western Cape’s Head of Health, says that community transmissions in the most affected sub-districts of the Cape Metro had their roots in ‘outbreak clusters‘. Cloete was speaking at a press briefing on Wednesday where he revealed that infections have spread among essential workers in the retail and pharmaceutical industries, law enforcement and correctional services, and workers employed in retirement and old-age homes.

According to graphs presented by Cloete, the sub-districts where essential workers live that reported the highest number of infections are Khayelitsha, Tygerberg, and Western and Eastern districts.

He reiterated the position of the Western Cape government that the local transmission of the virus in the province occurred earlier than the rest of the country. “We started to see local transmissions around the 14th and 15th of April, meanwhile the rest of the country had a late start,” he said.

“The community transmissions had its roots in the outbreak clusters and the virus started to establish itself in those communities,” he said. The retail sector has reported the highest number of cases and the viral network appears to have followed the supply chains of specific retailers.

Three hundred workers in the retail sector are infected, according to Cloete’s graph. It further shows police are getting sick in higher numbers with over 100 covid-19 cases in law enforcement, and about 100 in the pharmaceutical sector, and less than 50 in both correctional services and old-age care.

“We have the names of the supermarkets and each number for each supermarket,” Cloete said.

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According to the South African Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union in the Western Cape, the outbreak clusters were partly caused by the employers not providing personal protective equipment on time. “The employers were not ready for the lockdown and they moved too late as most supermarkets provided workers with PPEs two weeks after lockdown,” said SACCAWU’s legal coordinator in the Western Cape, Bandile Tyalidikazi.

Tyalidikazi told Elitsha that the retail companies were citing the unavailability of personal protective equipment though this just meant there was not enough for all employees to be equipped.

Three weeks after lockdown, workers at SuperSpar in Khayelitsha downed tools to demand covid-19 tests and PPE. One worker described the size of their canteen as a danger to their health because it is so small, social distancing is impossible.

Tyalidikazi also pointed to the small size of supermarket canteens as a problem, as well as the dirty state of toilets that do not have hand sanitisers at most of the supermarkets.

The union said that disagreement between the regulations issued by the departments of labour and of health concerning re-testing after quarantine is causing lot of confusion among workers and the employers are taking advantage. “The Department of Labour says that the workers have to be re-tested after 14 days of quarantine whilst the Department of Health says they do not do re-testing. There is a current problem with a supermarket in the Parow area as we speak. The employer insists that the workers should re-test but the Department of Health is saying that they do not do re-tests. The employers are using those division to create their own policies to further frustrate the workers,” said Tyalidikazi

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The Western Cape spokesperson for the Department of Employment and Labour, Candice Van Reenen, said they have engaged with the Department of Health and are in the processing of amending the regulation. The current position is that it depends on the employer if they want workers to be re-tested.

“However, following engagement with the Department of Health on this matter, the Department is considering an amendment to the COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures in the Workplace directive. Therefore, in the interim, the department’s position on this is that for now it be at the employer’s discretion to have the employee re-tested before returning to work,” Van Reenen said.

According to the Coronavirus updates issued by the office of the Premier, there are 5,898 active cases of Covid-19, with a total of 11,810 confirmed cases and 5,677 recoveries and 235 deaths in the Western Cape as of 13h00 on Thursday.

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