Seven prosecutors have been ordered to go into quarantine after coming into contact with a prison warder who tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus in the Eastern Cape.
The prosecutors, who are all based at the East London Magistrates’ Court were told to self-isolate after the results of the warder were released on Wednesday night.
“We have been instructed to self-quarantine because our supervisor was in contact with a senior correctional services officer who has tested positive for the virus.
“Prosecutors were forced to go and collect decision dockets for statistics purposes and their safety was overlooked. The outbreak of the virus in East London Correctional Centre was a well-known thing, but the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) ignored all that and exposed us,” said one prosecutor who requested not to be named.
Three prosecutors based in the Eastern Cape told City Press on Thursday that they only received personal protective equipment (PPE) on Tuesday.
“The masks, gloves and sanitisers only arrived on Tuesday after our union issued a statement blaming the NPA for failing to provide the PPE,” one prosecutor said.
On April 10 the National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers (Nupsaw) condemned the NPA for failing to provide protective gear for prosecutors working during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Union spokesperson Kagiso Makoe said: “Nupsaw will not compromise the safety of workers and will do everything in its power to protect the working class. Everything possible must be done to protect their safety. Nupsaw is calling for government oversight to ensure proper PPE is in place to protect workers at the NPA.
“We are concerned that NPA workers are continuing to work without PPE. Workers working in courts are extremely concerned about the pandemic. There have been no masks, no gloves and no sanitisers. The equipment is also essential to prevent workers from passing the virus on to others in the court, many of whom are at high risk owing to poor health.”
Nupsaw called on the government to intervene and ensure that the NPA puts the safety of its workforce first.
“We demand that the NPA take action, with immediate effect, to support the workers and enable them to continue to work during the lockdown,” said Makoe.
WhatsApp messages circulating within the prosecutors’ group in the region suggested that plans were afoot for everyone to be tested for the virus.
“One senior prosecutor from East London met with the senior prison official without protection after the Covid-19 outbreak. They went back to court and met with prosecutors, and then the test results of the head of prison came out positive. Now the prosecutor is telling other prosecutors in East London that only certain prosecutors must self-quarantine. Why not everyone? Why not shut down and let everyone be tested?” one prosecutor asked.
On Tuesday the department of correctional services announced that there were 78 confirmed Covid-19 cases within the prisons sector. The number included 53 inmates and 25 officials at the St Albans Correctional Centre in Port Elizabeth and at the national head office in Pretoria.
In the East London prison facility, at least 23 officials tested positive for the virus.
City Press has learnt that the majority of prosecutors in East London downed tools on Thursday demanding that they be tested and their offices be disinfected.
According to NPA spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke: “Two senior public prosecutors had a meeting on April 14 with a department official who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.
When this information was communicated to management, the director of administration requested that the chief prosecutor provide a list of all staff who came into contact with the official, and it was only the two senior public prosecutors aforementioned.
“The affected department official further came into contact with another prosecutor in Komga [in the Amatole district] in a meeting and a list of all NPA staff who came in contact with that prosecutor was collated, all of whom were given an instruction to self-isolate as a precautionary measure while we wait for the screening results. One of them was tested and the result came back negative and the others will be screened in the coming week.
“At all times after becoming aware of the situation, the senior public prosecutors were communicating with all prosecutors in their clusters, including district court and regional court staff, through a WhatsApp group, as they do in the normal course of communication among themselves as a cluster to keep everyone informed of the developments.
“The department of justice regional head has confirmed that arrangements to disinfect the offices in Komga went ahead on Saturday, while those to disinfect the offices in East London on Sunday morning have been put in place. Further, the regional head has made arrangements with Dr Nozipho Jaxa, a champion for screening, testing and tracing in the Eastern Cape for possible staff assessments in the East London building early in the coming week.”
Makeke said the NPA had also engaged its employee wellness programme services to provide support to affected staff who may require such support.
“The directions issued by Justice and Correctional Services Minster Ronald Lamola with respect to the requisite measures in courts continue to be observed strictly. Staff in all offices, including in the East London office, have been provided with hand sanitisers and PPE, although supply is affected by general availability in the various areas.
“All this relevant information has been communicated to all staff in the East London office, and the NPA head office continuously communicates with staff nationally about all the interventions being put into place, and all the other relevant information and recommendations from the health department with respect to preventative measures that all citizens must engage to protect themselves.”
Senior journalist | City Press
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