Cape Fear: Western Cape Covid-19 travellers in the Eastern Cape residing in their local homes

Minibus taxis transporting seasonal workers between the Eastern Cape and Western Cape.
Minibus taxis transporting seasonal workers between the Eastern Cape and Western Cape.
Image: Supplied

Eastern Cape residents have fretted for weeks over  the danger that people travelling from the Western Cape might bring the coronavirus to the province. Those fears have now been realised.

On Thursday, the Eastern Cape health department announced that 56 people who had travelled in minibus taxis from the Western Cape had tested positive for Covid-19.

Fear has turned to anger.

Traditional leaders and politicians who'd warned it was only matter of time before the influx of people — some coming into the Eastern Cape with fake permits — would impact on the province are not only slamming the Western Cape government, but the Bhisho administration as well.

“How many people have now been infected by these people? How many people they have socialised with? How many communities have now been affected?" seethed Contralesa provincial secretary Nkosi Mkhanyiseli Dudumayo.

“Both governments should have done things better.”

At a media briefing on Thursday morning, Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said all 56 people  had entered the province through Tsitsikamma and Aberdeen, by Thursday night the number had climbed to 80.

This is the same route first used by a convoy of taxis from Cape Town and other parts of the Western Cape over the Easter weekend, when the migration was first noticed by the provincial transport department.  

A total of 9,524 people were transported from the Western Cape to the province between April 29 and May 4.

The issue that has raised the ire of critics is that the 80 are at their respective homes in the former Transkei and still have to be taken into quarantine.  

“We are now following up on them, and that then suggests that we might be having more (infections). Results are trickling in,” Gomba said.

Some Western Cape travellers have already been put in quarantine at provincial quarantine sites like Mpekweni Beach Resort and Fish River Resort. The Dispatch understands that those groups, totalling 100 people at the two resorts, are still awaiting their test results.

“Remember, there is a group we took in at Fish River, but there are groups where we took their ID documents and we would follow them to see where they were going. Because the number that got in was too big, we could not have a venue at the same time [to quarantine them after screening and testing]," Gomba said.

“If you look at how many tests and screenings were done — the numbers exceed 8,000 —  there was not going to be any place for us to quarantine them. So what we then did was agree to screen, test and take their IDs to ensure that we follow them up. So now we are linking them to the addresses in the districts they fall under.”

Gomba was puzzled as to why the travellers had not been tested in the Western Cape.

“Why the 56 people were not tested in the Western Cape is beyond me. We need all provinces to work together in containing the spread of this virus,” she said.

But Dudumayo and others did not mince their words.

“The government should have paid the accommodation cost for all of them and quarantined them. You cannot make an excuse to say that would have been expensive, suggesting the loss of life would have been cheaper. The norm is to test and quarantine all people entering another province  and release them after they are given a clean bill of health. Why did this not happen in this case? Is money superceding human life?" 

ANC provincial task team member Mawande Ndakisa said the Western Cape government was “careless” when it came to controlling movement between the two provinces.  

“There's no seasonal work in the Western Cape so now farmers are deporting our people  to their 'home country', according to their thinking. They still see that province as their Cape Colony,” Ndakisa said.

The Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders and Contralesa provincial leadership has called on traditional leaders in the province to assist the health department in tracing those who have tested positive.

Eastern Cape House of Traditional Leaders acting provincial chairperson Nkosi Langa Mavuso said it was essential that the 56 and others who had tested positive were assisted.

“We urge traditional leaders to assist the health department in finding them, but in the same breath we speak out strongly against stigmatising  and humiliating them. They need our love and care. We must not disown them. Even their families must be treated with respect and we must observe confidentiality," said Mavuso.

Western Cape premier Alan Winde told DispatchLIVE that at roadblocks on major arterial roads, his government had picked up between 4,000 and 6,000 people travelling daily during the interprovincial travel grace period under level 4 of the lockdown but “regulations do not call for specific permits or for testing”.

The Western Cape government had put in place protocols for seasonal agricultural workers to ensure they were screened and their temperatures checked before leaving the province.

“We have also, following our meeting with the Eastern Cape, put in place protocols for screening for those travelling between provinces for funerals and have numerous roadblocks in place on major routes, to inspect taxis and funeral permits.

“We expect the same measures to be put in place by the Eastern Cape for those returning from the Eastern Cape,” Winde said.

On Thursday, rural development & agrarian reform MEC Nomakhosazana Meth released a statement pleading with Western Cape farm owners to test their workers before sending them to the Eastern Cape.

“Our officials are engaging the local Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) in the Western Cape to convince farmers to have workers tested prior to releasing them,” said Meth.  

Thursday was the last day motorists were allowed to complete the “one-off” interprovincial journey allowed under level 4 lockdown regulations.

Transport department spokesperson Unathi Binqose  said: “We have had no problems at all, but we expected an increase in movement. We noticed there were people using back roads to avoid  checkpoints. But we have made some inroads in those roads and deployed officials there,” Binqose said.

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