For Martha*, a Limpopo Capricorn TVET College student, finding out her negative result for Covid-19 coronavirus this week has been a relief – and, although self-quarantine is “hard”, she said: “I’m trying by all means to do what I’ve been told to do.”
Speaking to City Press on Friday, on condition of anonymity, the 29-year-old said their group of 16, who had returned from Henan Province in China, initially had concerns about not having had laboratory tests for Covid-19 when they arrived back in the country on Friday last week.
The return of the students had caused some mayhem with the provincial health department, which had said in a press statement last week that the students had been “thoroughly quarantined and tested before they were released” to return to the country.
Some students and their family members said they had been screened but not tested.
“We were worried because we passed airports such as Beijing and Zhengzhou [Xinzheng International Airport] and could have picked up something there – not necessarily that we were worried we got the disease from Henan,” Martha said.
The students had been in the Chinese province on a two-year construction course which they had completed.
Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba told City Press on Friday that 15 of the students had since been tested and their results had come back negative.
They are all under self-isolation for 14 days as a precautionary measure.
“The 16th student didn’t come forward – others presented themselves. But I can tell you now she’ll also come out negative because they weren’t in an area that was at high risk for exposure to Covid-19, such as Wuhan [the epicentre of the outbreak]. We did the tests because of a public outcry and now we are relieved that we can put their matter to rest,” Ramathuba said.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the test results of the Capricorn TVET students during a press briefing on Thursday night at The Ranch Hotel in Polokwane. The hotel will act as a host facility to quarantine the 114 nationals returning to the country from Wuhan.
At the time of Mkhize’s announcement, the results of only 14 of the students were known. The 15th student was confirmed to be negative on Friday.
“What made the issue more difficult with the Capricorn TVET students was that we, as a department, weren’t aware that they were coming back – only their school knew so we couldn’t send our health officials to meet them when they landed. But once we found out about them, we sent out our teams.
“Now we have a list of about 140 more students who will be returning in the coming weeks from different parts of China and we’ll make sure they are screened, given a debriefing and material to help them during their self-isolation,” Ramathuba said.
Delta Mphahlele, the Limpopo spokesperson for the Azanian People’s Organisation, said they were worried the students were tested only “after the fact” and that this had caused anxiety in the communities where the students lived.
“A pupil at a school in Seshego told her friends her mother had returned from China and, during a classroom discussion about not being able to touch her mother, had insinuated that her mother had Covid-19. It led to the child being sent home from school. This is the result of not properly educating the family and community about the disease,” Mphahlele said.
“The living conditions of some of the families make it difficult for returnee students to self-isolate because of congested living areas,” he said.
Martha, who is was on day eight of her self-quarantine, said she was happy her results were negative and positive that she’d be able to get back to normal life.
“I am doing well. I have not been going outside and haven’t been in contact with people. It’s sad that the community doesn’t understand the disease and is quite afraid, especially of those returning from Wuhan.
“The community must not say the group can’t come here [to Limpopo]; these people are South Africans, it’s also their home,” she said.
*Not her real name