Covid-19: PE clinic closes after nurse dies, 11 staff test positive

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The Eastern Cape Department of Health has bowed to pressure by unions to shut down Zwide Clinic in Port Elizabeth, GroundUp reported.

The closure on Monday morning comes after 11 staff members tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. A nurse also died a few weeks ago.

Staff at the clinic have been demanding that they all be tested and that the clinic be closed for fumigation. A few nurses who had already been tested are still waiting for their results at home.

The department said that closing the clinic would leave many patients without healthcare services.

Health unions claimed that the department's Covid-19 Standard Operating Plan (SOP) was negligent and that the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) posed an even greater risk to both the clinic and the Zwide community.

On Monday, dozens of the patients outside the facility were advised by security guards to go to another clinic. Only staff members were allowed inside the premises.

'Feeling exhausted'

Mziyanda Twani, provincial secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) said a few weeks ago a nurse went home because she was feeling exhausted. She took a nap and never woke up, he said. She was later tested and found to be Covid-19 positive.

"The staff demanded that everyone be tested for Covid-19 and the clinic cleaned. However, the cleaning company only cleaned the pharmacy where the deceased member worked. They did not clean the entire building. This was on the weekend of 2 and 3 May. The rest of the staff went back to work on 4 May, even though they did not yet know the results of their tests," he said.

"On Thursday 7 May, results started coming in, confirming that one staff member was positive. On Friday, all health unions asked the district to close the clinic, send staff home, and to bring the disinfecting team back to clean the whole clinic," said Twani.

In response to this plea, the department published its Standard Operating Plan, which according to Twani states that all health workers who have been tested for the coronavirus must continue to work until they get their results – even if they have been in contact with a Covid-19 positive patient.

"We have a serious shortage of PPE. We do not have enough gloves or masks. We wear one mask for the entire day and there are more than 500 patients coming in and out per day. This is a serious risk to us and the patients.

"We are happy that the clinic is closed, but the department must make sure that the patients get their treatments," Twani said.

One of the patients outside the clinic on Monday, Tamara Sibhaca, said: "I am disappointed. I gave birth on Friday and was supposed to bring my baby here for a check-up. But now I'm told by the guards to go to Veeplaas Clinic, which is always full."

Dr Litha Matiwane, the provincial deputy director-general for healthcare services, on Sunday confirmed to GroundUp that the facility would be closing for "deep decontamination".

"I cannot say when it will reopen because we are testing all 42 staff members. The duration will also be determined by the release of the results."

Matiwane said tracing and testing teams would make sure that the people who were in contact with staff, who test positive, are also tested.

Regarding PPE concerns raised by the unions, Matiwane said: "PPE is a constant struggle and is rare globally. Aprons are a part of SOP. There is nothing wrong with wearing a mask for the whole day."

Matiwane advised patients to visit clinics nearby, which include KwaZakhele, Soweto-on-Sea, Max Madlingozi and Veeplaas clinics. He said mobile clinics may also be used to supplement services.

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