Free State officials still tracking 286 people after Covid-19 church outbreak

30 March 2020 - 17:13 By Graeme Hosken and Jeff Wicks
The Divine Restoration Ministry in Bloemfontein is at the centre of the Free State's push to contain the spread of the coronavirus, testing more than 1,000 people who may have had contact with infected churchgoers.
The Divine Restoration Ministry in Bloemfontein is at the centre of the Free State's push to contain the spread of the coronavirus, testing more than 1,000 people who may have had contact with infected churchgoers.
Image: CHARL DEVENISH

Coronavirus track and trace teams in Bloemfontein are still on the hunt for 286 people who may have been in contact with infected churchgoers.

The Free State health department, marshalling hundreds of Red Cross volunteers and guided by epidemiologists, is racing against time to hem in the pandemic — with three churches becoming central to its spread.

With the number of infections in the Free State rising to 72 on Sunday, ground zero for the tracing scramble is Divine Restoration Ministries, on the outskirts of Bloemfontein.

The church had hosted the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast — an event stretching over several days — which saw congregants unwittingly exposed to five international guests from France, Israel and the US who later tested positive for the virus.

Free State health department spokesperson Mondli Mvambi said that their search for 1,259 people had been narrowed down to 286.

He said they had tracked 973 at the weekend with the help of the Red Cross Society volunteers.

“We were able to trace people through various networks on the ground and with people presenting themselves to the department officials.

“We have expanded our tracking teams to help find the remaining individuals. Should they be found in other provinces we will inform our provincial counterparts and get them to help us in tracing them,” he said.

The Sunday Times reported that tracking teams had expanded their search beyond the borders of the Free State, after it was revealed that many of the faithful had returned to Gauteng, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.

Among them are controversial evangelist Angus Buchan and ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe, who have both since confirmed that they are carriers of the virus.

George Mamabolo, the SA Red Cross Society programme manager, said the Red Cross was using volunteers and staff from across the country to help in the tracing process. Their role was to track and trace people.

“We have a wide network across SA, which includes people in a multitude of settings from towns and villages, who we can call on to help. So far we have been able to assist quite a bit in tracking down those that the government has been looking for.”

Divine Restoration Ministries referred questions to the department of health.

Tracing teams have also honed in on other evangelical churches, namely the Global Reconciliation Church (GRC) in Bloemfontein and Light the World in the Northern Cape, who had members attending the prayer breakfast.   

Neither Apostle Mohau Rammile of GRC or Henk Kruger of Light the World could be reached for comment.

The pandemic has taken a strong foothold in SA, with 1,280 confirmed cases by Sunday night. Nearly a month after the first case was recorded on March 5, two people have died from Covid-19.


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