MPs shocked at government's R28m bill for 'quarantine hotels'
The government is paying over R28m to quarantine repatriated South Africans at private hotels.
The department of public works and infrastructure told parliament on Monday that as of last Thursday, 4,427 people were in quarantine across the country. The majority - 3,280 - were in Gauteng.
None were reported in the Eastern Cape, although the department's Morris Mabinja was quick to add that the province had recently housed people in quarantine facilities in Alfred Nzo, Buffalo City, Amathole, OR Tambo and Chris Hani districts.
As of Thursday, 98 quarantine facilities had been activated across the country – 66 of which are state-owned, while the remaining 32 are private.
The department has contracted seven hotels in Johannesburg, three in Cape Town, one in eThekwini, one in Ekurhuleni and two in Tshwane.
In total, 2,125 people have so far been catered for at these hotels - at a cost of R28,677,600.
While the department said nothing on Monday about the costs of accommodating people in state-owned facilities, it's the high cost of these quarantine hotels that has raised eyebrows. MPs heard that among other things, some hotels insisted on the government paying for the whole hotel, regardless of the occupancy level.
“Those are the amounts which we have to budget for,” said Mabinja, addressing a meeting of parliament's oversight committees.
He said the department of tourism and the National Treasury had negotiated standard tariffs with private establishments, where the government would pay rates ranging from R850 a night for a one-star hotel room on a dinner, lunch and breakfast basis to R1,385 per night for a four-star hotel on the same basis, sharing.
The terms of the agreement would see the government taking over the whole hotel. This would also include three meals, laundry and hospital-grade cleaners.
The terms also include a stipend for hotel staff, while additional costs would be incurred for deep-cleaning a room after the departure of infected people.
The department has spent a further R5m to refurbish two of its facilities, Salvakop and Tshwane West College in the Tshwane metropolitan area, to serve as quarantine centres. Mabinja said the two facilities have a combined capacity of just over 100 beds.
MPs also heard that among issues of concern was how some quarantined travellers were being released prematurely from facilities and hotels. The department said some provinces, particularly Limpopo, did not adhere to the mandatory quarantine procedure for people coming through land borders.
Director-general Sam Vukela said they had wished to only use public facilities as quarantine sites, but due to the government's multidisciplinary approach on Covid-19, they worked with various departments.
The department of health, which assesses the quarantine facilities, said it would be costly to use public works houses, as they have to put a health professional, an administrator and a security official at each site.
“The advice we got from them was that in the meantime we are not going to approve houses that have been provided by the department of public works and infrastructure. However, we are still working on the state facilities in many respects to make sure we utilise them,” said Vukela.
He said his department had no budget for quarantine sites, but the Treasury had indicated that it should proceed with payment and they would be reimbursed during the adjustment of the budget.
Vukela said they are querying the issue of paying for the whole hotel while it was not being fully used, even though this was part of the agreement. The hotels had argued that it would not make sense for them to open for a few people to be quarantined, he said.
MPs raised concerns over the amounts budgeted for quarantine hotels and suggested that the department look instead at small lodges and even schools and tertiary education residences to save costs.