99 workers at 'unsafe' Cape Town pharma factory have Covid-19

25 April 2020 - 10:19
By Dave Chambers
Ninety-nine staff at GlaxoSmithKline in Epping, Cape Town, have tested positive for Covid-19.
Image: isipani.co.za Ninety-nine staff at GlaxoSmithKline in Epping, Cape Town, have tested positive for Covid-19.

Ninety-nine staff at a single Cape Town factory which was closed down this week by the labour department have tested positive for Covid-19.

Pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline confirmed the number on Saturday, four days after the department said production and operations at the Epping factory must be suspended until safety measures were improved.

Natasha Carnow
Image: LinkedIn/Natasha Carnow Natasha Carnow

“As a result of proactive testing of our employees, we unfortunately now have 99 staff who have been diagnosed with Covid-19,” said GSK's human resources manager in the Cape, Natasha Carnow.

“We are committed to supporting these staff currently who are in isolation, including providing essential food and medical supplies as well as full pay.

“In this way, we will continue producing essential consumer health products for SA while keeping our own people safe.”

A statement from Carnow on Saturday said the labour department had approved the factory's reopening “based on the health and safety measures in place on site”.

It added: “Our decision when to open the site is dependent on a number of factors, most importantly to ensure that we feel comfortable that we are offering the best possible protection and support to our employees, whilst working with our shop stewards to ensure this.

“We have further reinforced measures that were already in place such as the provision of personal protective equipment, hand sanitiser, driving staff to and from work, and social-distance safe practice. We have also deep cleaned the entire factory, and will continue to do so regularly.

“The health of all our employees is our priority. We are working on reopening the site whilst ensuring the health and safety of our team. We continue to work with our global specialists and our union representatives to ensure we are doing everything we can, and will announce our plan to reopen in due course.”

On Tuesday, labour department spokesperson Candice van Reenen said a prohibition notice had been issued because GSK had been “found to be in contravention of the occupational health and safety act”.

She added: “They did not have a risk assessment in place that spoke to Covid-19 regulations, they did not have adequate sanitising, they also did not have adequate personal protective equipment for staff.”

Van Reenen said the company had been instructed to keep paying salaries for as long as the factory was closed.