Busted by cellphones

2020-05-15 14:00
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Rampant breaching of lockdown regulations caused Pietermaritzburg to be declared a Covid-19 hotspot, and not the rate of new infections or deaths.

KwaZulu-Natal premier’s spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said cellphone tracking had raised a red flag in the uMgungundlovu­ district and in Pietermaritzburg. He said that declaring an area a Covid-19 hotspot was based on several factors, including the rate of infection, the number of people infected, the number of deaths and compliance with lockdown.

The uMgungundlovu district remains at number three on the provincial hotspot list, with eThekwini at number one and Ilembe at number two.

Mabaso said the status of an area as a hotspot is not a “static one”.

“Statistics are analysed on a daily basis. What people don’t know is that behind the scenes, there is a large engine room, with highly educated and skilled people who are crunching these numbers continuously to provide the data for us to make decisions accordingly,” said Mabaso.

He said all the main factors were monitored daily and if one is excessive, the area comes under scrutiny.

All the statistics are discussed daily with each district command council, which has an MEC as a co-chair with the district mayor. That information is then fed to the provincial command task team for decisions.

Laboratory test results, screening results and the use of cellphone technology to monitor people’s movement all influence the decision, said Mabaso.

“Pietermaritzburg was found to be a hotspot, thus the district uMgungundlovu featured in the list as a result of non-compliance to lockdown regulation. We are using cellphone technology to monitor the movement of people.

“The unusually high movement of people in Pietermaritzburg recently resulted in the minister of Police Bheki Cele visiting the area as well to ensure lockdown compliance,” said Mabaso.

He said cellphone technology was playing a vital role in providing data to them in the fight against Covid-19.

“At any given time we are able, via cellphone data, to see how many times a person has moved around.

“It shows how people are moving in certain areas, moving up and down, to town, to the shops, walking around aimlessly in the neighbourhood.

“We are using very advanced technology and no decision is just based on what we think is happening. We have the scientific and medical backing to justify our actions,” said Mabaso.

He said non-compliance in an area with a sufficient number of people infected was a “major problem” because of the way the virus spreads.

“While it may only be 63 cases now — let’s look at the network of the one infected person moving up and down in a taxi, to the mall, to the shops and back home. How many other people are being infected?” asked Mabaso.

He said while certain areas had been declared hotspots, government was preparing equally in all districts.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize explained yesterday that based on World Health Organisation guidelines, districts in areas with a high number of Covid-19 cases will be assigned individual levels of lockdown depending on the average number of active cases per 100 000 people.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  hotspot

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