By Lucas Ledwaba
Health MEC Dr Phophi Ramathuba outlines plans to continue fight against spread of Coronavirus
The imminent reopening of borders and easing of travel regulations under alert level 1 announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa this week has cast the spotlight on Limpopo’s readiness to deal with the expected influx of travellers.
The province borders Botswana and Zimbabwe and boasts one of the busiest international border posts, Beit Bridge, which on normal days processes thousands of business and leisure travellers and a huge volume of freight trucks ferrying goods from and to the SADC region.
Limpopo is also home to a vibrant tourism sector that attracts scores of international and domestic tourists, especially during the warm summer months.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the threat of the virus, which has reportedly killed over 950 000 worldwide, is still a grim reality.
“We have always been ready during all the lockdown levels,” Limpopo MEC for health Dr Phophi Ramathuba said in response to whether the province was prepared for alert level 1.
Ramaphosa announced that the move to alert level 1 will take effect from midnight.
Although the move to alert level 1 eases restrictions on social gatherings and travel, Ramaphosa warned that health protocols, such as washing and sanitising of hands, social distancing and wearing of masks will need to be strictly observed.
Limpopo was propelled into the coal face of efforts to fight the virus in March when it was chosen to host a group of 121 SA citizens repatriated from Wuhan in China. The decision caused panic and anger, with some groups threatening to protest publicly against the decision, saying it would cause the spread of the virus in the province.
The 121 were quarantined for 14 days at The Ranch resort, which is located about 25km south of Polokwane. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize had announced that the venue was the ideal place to quarantine the group because it was in a remote area and was close to an airport.
But despite the backlash around the decision, Ramathuba said the move to host the Wuhan group assisted the provincial health authorities to gain more knowledge about the virus and devise strategies to counter its spread.
At the time, reports of the devastation caused by the virus in countries such as Italy and Greece struck fear that a province like Limpopo, which is 85% rural with scant resources and an elderly citizenry, could suffer the same fate as Europe.
But six months later, statistics tell a different story. This week, Mkhize announced that the province suffered 325 casualties from the virus, the second lowest in the country above Northern Cape with a death rate of 182.
Ramathuba said the province managed to control the spread of the virus through a rigorous and well-coordinated strategy, which involved strict monitoring, screening, testing and isolation of positive cases.
The province, through a network of community healthcare workers, screened, 3.5-million people. Ramathuba said out of those screened there were 4 000 suspected cases of COVID-19 who were tested by a team of 500 nurses. Out of this number only six tested positive.
Monitoring and screening
Ramathuba said the province will be continuing with the strict monitoring and screening efforts under alert level 1 lockdown regulations.
These will include deploying community healthcare workers to teach households meticulous cleaning methods and encouraging the wearing of masks and cleaning of hands in the work and home environments.
“We are going to be strict on the border,” said Ramathuba, adding that they will be conducting screening of travellers at points of entry.
She said in line with Ramaphosa’s announcement, those travelling into the country will need to present a negative
COVID-19 test result not older than 72 hours from the time of their departure.
Ramaphosa said travellers who have not conducted any COVID-19 test before entering the country will be required to remain in mandatory quarantine at their own cost.
Those presenting with symptoms will be required to remain in quarantine until a repeat COVID-19 test is conducted.
Ramathuba said they have established a task team with economic development, environment and tourism MEC Thabo Mokone to ensure compliance in the tourism sector, which is one of the key contributors to the provincial gross domestic product.
Auditor-general Kimi Makwetu recently released the results of a real-time audit of 16 of the key COVID-19 initiatives introduced by the government and the management of R147.4-billion of the funds made available for these initiatives.
The audit was initiated after reports of widespread corruption and irregularities in the procurement of personal protective equipment by various departments and provinces.
Makwetu said it represents the first in a series of reports that will deal with the financial management of the government’s COVID-19 initiatives, covering R68.9-billion (47%) of the R147.4-billion spending and it is for all expenditure up to and including July 31.
Ramathuba said although the procurement process put a strain on the department as it was conducted during strict lockdown regulations, the department had stuck to Treasury regulations and managed to ensure health workers and all concerned were adequately equipped.
“We are looking forward to the second audit report,” she said.
Ramathuba added that one of the lessons learnt during the lockdown period was that there was a need for public and private healthcare systems to work together as this kind of collaboration had proven invaluable.