*UPDATE: Spar has since indicated that the store will be closed for two weeks as an extra precaution. It will reopen on May 27.
One of the busiest retail stores in the Eastern Cape, Nick's Foods Superspar in King William's Town, has sent an entire shift home after one of its members tested positive for Covid-19.
In a memo sent to all staff members on Sunday, Kriton Efstratiou, director of the franchise and son of the Greek owner Nicos Efstratiou, said the employee was quarantined at home.
Efstratiou said the employee last worked on a shift on Saturday. He said the employee was tested on April 14 and the Department of Health informed him/her, and the directors of the store, about the results on Sunday.
"Although the results were significantly delayed by the Department of Health, we accordingly need to take the following [measures]."
The measures included sending home all those who worked with the positive employee on a shift.
They will be tested on Wednesday at one of the store's three Tops liquor outlets, which is not trading due to Level 4 restrictions.
Efstratiou said the workers will remain at their homes until the Department of Health has come back with their results.
The store is still trading, News24 has confirmed with the store's employees, and had called the store landline to speak to one of the managers.
Efstratiou said the store will apply for the Unemployment Insurance Fund on behalf of all the employees. In this way, they can earn at the end of the month, even if this may require the store to pay money to the fund.
The bustling store, at the corner of Cathcart and Walker roads, draws large crowds of shoppers and makes it difficult for cars to pass on busy month-ends.
In the one-page letter, Efstratiou said: "We are working very closely with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the Department of Health, and we are monitoring the situation closely."
He said the employee was currently not presenting Covid-19 symptoms.
'We are all in danger'
On duty employees of the second shift, roped in to cover for the quarantined shift workers, told News24 that they were not feeling safe with the fact that the store was still trading.
"For instance, some of our shift two members were in contact with shift one, which has been sent into quarantine. Some of the shift two workers went and worked on that shift to fill for absent colleagues. We are all in danger. I don't understand why we are still trading."
The employees asked News24 not to mention their names.
In the letter, Efstratiou said the store has contracted a company to perform decontamination and deep cleaning every Sunday. He did not mention anything about closing the store.
Responding to the allegations that the Department of Health delayed the results "significantly", Eastern Cape health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo lashed out at the store owners.
"That's nonsense - if people test positive, the store must close to disinfect and put contacts under quarantine. This is not the time to point fingers, but to do the right thing."
Kupelo added: "Labour needs to visit them and enforce the law."
The letter to employees lists Kristo, Nicos and Nicos' younger brother, Platon, as directors of the successful family empire of six Tops and two Superspars.
News24 made several efforts to get a comment from Kristo, but he failed to respond to our WhatsApp messages. He was also called on his cellphone, but he never picked up.
A message was also left at the store with one of the office managers. However, the call was not returned.
Eastern Cape Spar Group divisional managing director Angelo Swartz confirmed the positive case, adding that it was the first case of a staff member testing positive at a Spar store in the Eastern Cape region.
He said this happened while Spar implemented stringent proactive measures at their stores during the early stages of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Swartz said this included splitting the workforce into a shifts system more than a month ago, adding that this helped isolate and limit the spread of infection.
"Our implementation of stringent health and safety protocols and our ongoing collaboration with the Departments of Health and Labour in the Eastern Cape continue to help us win the fight against the spread of the virus.
"Our proactive implementation of health and hygiene measures have gone well beyond minimum standards and this has meant we have been given the green light by the department to continue operating our store."
Swartz said the affected staff member and those people he was in direct contact with have already been isolated and placed in quarantine.
"We are, however, not taking any risks as far as the health and safety of our loyal customers, our dedicated staff and the community is concerned. The well-being of our staff and customers remains our number one priority and, in this regard, we are conducting screening and retesting of staff this week, while also implementing deep cleaning and sterilisation, among many other measures.
"We have, for instance, instituted a walk-in temperature check and have produced billboards throughout the store to communicate the urgent need for social distancing and hand sanitising. These add to the screens and masks provided to protect staff and customers, and numerous other measures to keep our store safe."
In a subsequent statement, Spar indicated that the store would be closed from Wednesday for two weeks.
"The wellbeing of our staff and customers remains our number one priority and, in this regard, we have, of our own volition, decided to temporarily close our store for the next two weeks as an extra precaution. To this end, our store will be closed from 13 May 2020 and we will re-open refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to serve on Wednesday 27 May 2020. We thank our community for the immense support they have shown us over the years, and especially over this time."