Expedite testing and contact tracing to win war against Covid-19

Image: REUTERS/ SIPHIWE SIBEKO

On March 5, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases confirmed South Africa's first patient to test positive for Covid-19. Three weeks later the government imposed a national lockdown. Schools, workplaces, places of worship, tourism, interprovincial and international travelling — all came to a halt with the sole aim of flattening the curve of the virus.

The lockdown minimised human interactions, thereby cutting the rate of infections since the virus does not move on its own but is spread by people. The lockdown was meant to give the government time to put in place strategies to fight the virus — including testing and contact tracing. Details of anyone visiting public offices or shops would be captured for easy tracing in case one came into contact with an infected person.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet received praise not only from South African citizens but  also from international bodies for swiftly taking such a painful but necessary route. Speaking from Switzerland on April 22, World Health Organisation  executive secretary Dr Michael Ryan said: “It is interesting the way in which South Africa is bringing the disease under control. This strategy in SA was based on preparation, primary prevention, lockdown and an enhanced surveillance.”

Receiving international praise indicates how far we went as a country. But since then, the wheels seem to have come off.  On Thursday we reported on the anguish of people who have waited for more than 30 days for test results from both public and private laboratories.

Understandably, in the first two months of the lockdown the laboratories were overwhelmed. But the virus has now been with us for more than five months and new strategies have been adopted, including testing only those who appear sick.

Receiving international praise indicates how far we went as a country. But since then, the wheels seem to have come off

So why do we still have people waiting so long for their results?  How many people have they infected while waiting for their results? These tests are not free, so  what happens to the fees paid by those who have not received their results? With this kind of approach, some may die and others recover before they receive their results.   

Surely as a nation we can do better. Let those who are entrusted with testing do their work diligently. We do not buy into the idea of a shortage of resources. It has been demonstrated beyond doubt that the money is there. It is squandered through various pervasive corrupt practices.

The government has promised that the corrupt will be dealt with decisively. Let's see that done swiftly, and resources properly channeled into fighting Covid-19 through expediting testing and contact tracing.


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