Hundreds at risk as PSJ family and EL attendees contract Covid-19 after funeral

Six members of one family who attending a Port St Johns funeral have tested positive for Covid-19. Others, from East London, who attended the same funeral, have also tested. positive.
Six members of one family who attending a Port St Johns funeral have tested positive for Covid-19. Others, from East London, who attended the same funeral, have also tested. positive.
Image: Alexander Raths/123rf.com

Six members of the same Port St Johns family have tested positive for the coronavirus. Fourteen of their relatives are awaiting their test results.

The infections in a village, announced by local and district mayors and health department officials on Wednesday, have confirmed the Wild Coast tourist destination as one of the province's Covid-19 hotspots.  

There are now 199 positive coronavirus cases in the Eastern Cape and 2,506 in the country. Seven more deaths were announced by health minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday night, bringing the number of fatalities nationally to 34.  

All those who have tested positive in Port St Johns attended a funeral in the area on March 21, prior to the lockdown. Hundreds of other mourners were at this funeral, and health officials are now desperately trying to contact them.

The health department is also screening and testing all the villagers and trying to trace all those who had contact with the infected family members.

On Wednesday, the authorities deliberately avoided naming the family and their village, fearing they could be victimised.

They confirmed that the six family members had refused to go to hospital because they had shown no symptoms.

At the media briefing in Port St Johns, OR Tambo district mayor Thokozile Sokanyile said: “They want to continue isolating themselves at home while we are suggesting that they be isolated in hospital. St Barnabas Hospital is ready to welcome them and there is already a ward for Covid-19 patients.

“Their argument is that they have shown no signs of Covid-19, despite having tested positive. If they break any Covid-19 regulation, we are going to lay criminal charges against them, but so far there have been no reports that they have broken any law,'' said Sokhanyile.

Silulami Mlenzana, the  health department's national health insurance and communicable disease regional co-ordinator, said hundreds of people, some from foreign countries, attended the funeral in the village on March 21. There was also another funeral in another Port St Johns village on April 4.

“But the people who have tested positive all attended the March 21 funeral. All the six people are female and all are from one family. Some other people who attended the funeral tested positive in East London. So the funeral that most concerns us is the funeral of March 21,” Sokhanyile said.

Mlenzana said the six were among 20 family members who had been tested for Covid-19. The results of the other 14 were outstanding.

Officials are trying to minimise the spread of the virus through the distribution of water tanks to rural communities, a mass screening and testing programme and law enforcement measures to ensure people comply with the national lockdown regulations.

They said at the briefing everyone in the  village will undergo mandatory screening and testing. “We will be deploying officials to the village, but we have been interrupted by the rain, said Mlenzana.

For the past two weeks, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane and health MEC Sindiswa Gomba have cited the Port St Johns funeral and another in Port Elizabeth as events that spread the virus in the province.

Port St Johns mayor Nozuko Mlombile-Cingo was concerned by the behaviour of  people in rural areas. Many have continued to hold traditional slaughtering ceremonies and brew hundreds of litres of umqombothi (African beer).

There had also been incidences of people playing sport.

“All sport clubs and players found playing  will not only be arrested but sport tournaments or games at the ground will be banned for six months after the lockdown,” said Mlombile-Cingo.


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