SA group flown home from Miami spend just two days in quarantine
Instead of a virus test they filled out a form, were given a leaflet and then sent on their way
Young South Africans who returned from Miami last weekend were released from a brief quarantine in Cape Town without being tested for Covid-19 and after completing a questionnaire.
The group were flown back to SA by a US recruiting agency and released into the care of the health department. They were then quarantined in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The mother of one of the Cape Town group said it appeared many of them were released into the care of their families after just two nights at a Cape Town hotel that is contracted by the health department to help with quarantine.
She said her son was initially told he would need to spend two weeks in quarantine. “It was just weird – completely unexpected,” she said. “He came out [from the hotel] not wearing a mask and gloves and said: ‘OK, let’s go’,” said the mother, who has since placed her son in strict quarantine at home.
“I asked him: ‘How were you tested?’ and he said they gave him a leaflet. Of course I want to bring my child home, but I have two other children and I was not prepared,” she said, adding that her son had not been in quarantine in the US prior to his charter flight home.
A state doctor with knowledge of the group said the early release was problematic given the risks associated with international travel. It was also inconsistent with the protocol applied to other groups returning from high-risk countries, such as the group from Wuhan Province in China who were subjected to 14 days of quarantine in Limpopo.
The Miami group, who worked at hospitality companies in Florida, were sent home after a temperature test and an assurance that they would self-isolate, said the doctor, a family friend of one of the group.
“He was told he had no temp, he can go. He was given a piece of paper and sent home.
“I just feel we are doing all we can at a medical level, seeing these Covid-19 patients, and yet quarantine is not being taken seriously at all. I would like to understand what the rationale is.”
Those who feel they couldn’t do it at home are still in isolation or quarantine in government-managed facilities.Bianca Capazorio, spokesperson for premier Alan Winde
The hotel, which Times Select is not naming at the request of the Western Cape government, said it had complied with guidelines and taken safety precautions.
“The hotel has been working in close contact with the department of health and the head of department from the Western Cape government: disaster management and special events,” said a spokesperson.
The repatriation made news this month in the US. A media report posted on the Workaway website noted: “Once the passengers land, they will have to remain quarantined in hotels for two weeks, and some said they do not know what to expect once they arrive.”
Bianca Capazorio, spokesperson for Western Cape premier Alan Winde, said people able to isolate or quarantine themselves were allowed to do so. “These decisions are being taken in conjunction with epidemiologists’ advice,” she said.
“Every person is carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis by our health officials. They are checked from a medical as well as a quarantine potential perspective. Those who feel they couldn’t do it at home are still in isolation or quarantine in government-managed facilities.
“[And] as we roll out our community screening and testing programme, it is important that we have space for people who are not able to self-isolate or quarantine due to their living circumstances.”
Every person is carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis by our health officials.Bianca Capazorio
Public officials involved with SA quarantine services defended the health department’s “dynamic” response to the evolving coronavirus pandemic. This included evaluating each quarantine case on its merits, they said.
Strict 14-day quarantine for incoming South Africans was not always possible – for example in the case of minors – and not necessary if the arrivals had already been quarantined abroad, according to Darren Bergman, DA spokesperson for international relations and cooperation.
“There has to be some form of discretion used,” said Bergman, who has set up an online platform to help repatriate South Africans stranded abroad.
“It is an inconsistent model but a dynamic model [of quarantine],” he said of the health department protocol. “It is no longer 14 strict days. It takes into account your circumstances before you arrived.”