Durban port employees who came into contact with vessel that sailed from India told to self-isolate
Durban port employees who came into contact with goods aboard an Indian cargo ship have been given strict instructions to self-isolate at home.
This is after 14 of the 21 Filipino crew of the cargo vessel Eaubonne, which sails under the flag of the Marshall Islands, tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday.
The vessel, which left India two weeks ago transporting tonnes of rice, docked in Durban on Sunday, raising alarm bells after the shipmaster was informed that the chief engineer had died during the 14-day voyage from a heart attack.
Between Sunday and Monday evening about 200 port employees manually assisted with carting 3,000 tonnes of rice off the vessel and into a storage warehouse at the port.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the port employees said they were told they could only be tested after five days.
“We have been informed to self-isolate at home, not go anywhere and to not be in contact with anyone. Health officials said we cannot be tested now as they may not pick up if we have the virus. They said we must be tested after five days.
“Police have taken the names of all of those who came into contact with the goods on the vessel and advised they would contact us.”
This comes as fears mount over the situation on the Indian subcontinent, which has emerged as the global pandemic epicentre and is consistently reporting more than 300,000 new Covid-19 cases a day. The new cases and associated fatalities are largely driven by the B.1.617 variant.
According to vessel sites, the cargo ship left Kandla, a seaport town in the Kutch district of Gujarat state in western India, on April 18 and arrived in Durban on Sunday.
Members of the SAPS operational response services (ORS) based at the port co-ordinated the removal of the body, which was lifted off the vessel in a stokes basket via a crane.
Health officials then boarded the vessel taking blood samples from the 21 Filipino crew.
On Tuesday morning port authorities were informed that 14 of the crew had tested positive for Covid-19.
These 14 crew members remain on board the vessel.
It is understood that port health officials and members of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) boarded the vessel on Tuesday night to do further tests in an attempt to understand the strength of the strain and determine whether the crew are asymptomatic.
Port authorities have been informed that until the investigation is complete, no-one is allowed to be in contact with the vessel as it remains under strict security in its berth until authorities at Maydon Wharf decide to move it to the outer anchorage upon completion of the containment period.
On Tuesday health minister Zweli Mkhize said the government was on “high alert” for the new B.1.617 variant from India.
The body of the chief engineer was transported to a state mortuary for a postmortem.
“Due to sampling difficulties, authorities still await the PCR test result. However, contact tracing proceeded for 21 crew members. Of those, 14 have been detected with Covid-19 and seven have tested negative.”
Mkhize allayed fears recently when he publicly stated that the B.1.617 variant has not been detected in SA.
He said the B.1.351 (or 501Y.V2) variant identified in SA late last year, which was responsible for the deadly second wave, was still the most dominant in the country.
“The genomics teams are working on some samples and we will need to allow the time it takes to sequence before we get an answer. We have had confirmation that one of the samples taken from a traveller from India is the 501Y.V2.”
He said several people — including three who flew in from India — are having their positive samples tested.
According to Mkhize, there were three air travellers from India, via Doha, who flew into SA and had tested positive for Covid-19. One of them arrived in SA on April 21 and the others on April 25, all through King Shaka International Airport.
“The first passenger subsequently took ill and remains in isolation at a healthcare facility, while the other two passengers are asymptomatic and in isolation at paid lodgings,” he said.
The second wave of infections in India has seen at least 300,000 people test positive each day for the past week, overwhelming health facilities and crematoriums and prompting an increasingly urgent response from allies overseas sending equipment.
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