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Covid-19: Bloemfontein church that hosted infected guests says they were screened on arrival in SA

24 March 2020 - 15:34 By Naledi Shange

An inter-ministerial press briefing was held in Pretoria to address key points around the #SAlockdown on March 24 2020. Ministers from the economic cluster addressed key points around the Covid-19 pandemic and #SALockdown.

The Divine Restoration Church in Bloemfontein on Tuesday urged congregants who attended a prayer breakfast with international visitors to urgently get tested after confirmation that some guests had tested positive for Covid-19.

“Together with the department of health, we decided to test all attendees of the breakfast at the church premises on March 21 and 22. All those who have not been tested yet, we encourage you to be tested. You can get tested at Pelenomi or Universitas hospitals,” the church said.

The Free State on Tuesday recorded 18 positive infections, with the bulk of cases from the church.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said the church had hosted a four-day event this month attended by about 300 people. This included seven visitors from abroad, five of whom had since tested positive for the virus.

“They are still in the Free State. One has been taken to hospital and the others are still in quarantine,” Mkhize said.

In its statement, the church explained how this happened.

“The leadership of Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast (JPB) South Africa would like to set the record straight concerning the news about the five guests from overseas who unfortunately were tested positive to the coronavirus. First of all, the event was not a Divine Restoration Church event but organised by a group of South African people together with the leaders of the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast movement based in Israel. The pastor of Divine, one of the co-chairs of the committee in SA, offered the venue to host the meeting,” the church said.

“We confirm people from overseas who visited the church on March 10, 11 and 15 have now tested positive for the coronavirus. On the evening of March 11,  a man from France who came to SA on a business agenda joined the dinner at the venue. The fifth person arrived on March 15 to join her husband in SA. The five of them were present on March 15. They did not have physical contact with church members on March 15 as they came in while everybody was seated, and were ushered out before the end of the service,” the church said.

In its defence, the church said the Covid-19 positive guests “did not present sick symptoms on arrival in South Africa. They cleared the screening for signs of coronavirus at the entry port to South Africa”.

The church said it immediately had them tested after President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for international travellers to be tested.

The group was tested on March 16 and received news of their positive status two day later. They were put in immediate isolation.

“On March 19 we started sending a message to participants who were on the database that we had of the JPB  and the entire database of the church. On March 19, 21 people availed themselves for testing, including the pastor who had close contact with the five guests, and they are awaiting their results. They have self-quarantined since then,” the church said.

The church halted its Sunday service on March 22 after Ramaphosa's call to keep group gatherings below 100 people.