From Mantashe to Nxesi: Covid-19 infects 22,000 public servants

26 July 2020 - 00:00 By S'THEMBILE CELE
Energy minister Gwede Mantashe was admitted to hospital with Covid-19.
Energy minister Gwede Mantashe was admitted to hospital with Covid-19.
Image: GCIS

More than 22,000 public servants have been infected with the coronavirus - leading to sporadic temporary closures of 161 government offices across SA.

This was revealed by the department of public service & administration in response to questions from the Sunday Times.

As at July 17, 22,219 government employees out of a workforce of 1.2-million had tested positive. The department said 234 had died of the diseases caused by the virus, Covid-19.

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe and his colleague and friend labour minister Thulas Nxesi have been hospitalised with Covid-19. Gauteng premier David Makhura and his North West counterpart Job Mokgoro have recovered from Covid-19.

Mokgoro's local government MEC, Gordon Kegakilwe, succumbed to the disease three weeks ago.

There is no consolidated data from the private sector. However, one of the hardest-hit sectors has been mining, which has contributed to cluster outbreaks in the North West and Gauteng, with Gauteng now the country's epicentre.

By the end of June the Minerals Council SA recorded 1,796 confirmed cases, with more than 900 coming from the North West. One mining company in the province confirmed there were more than 450 cases at one mine alone.

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said last month that these kinds of outbreaks would be inevitable, with community transmission happening as people returned home from mines, factories and churches using public transport.

The department of public service & administration revealed that the bulk of confirmed cases among public servants were in the department of correctional services - 717 cases; in the South African Police Service - 7,533 cases; and in the department of health - 10,786 infections.

When cases are confirmed, offices are closed for decontamination, putting strain on systems that are already overburdened.

So far at least 161 offices have had to close their doors temporarily to allow for buildings to be disinfected. Of the reported closures, 49 have been at a provincial level and 112 have been in national departments.

The department said contingency plans for service delivery during the closures have been made where possible.

"Sporadically, offices need to close to deal with the disinfection of service delivery points and administrative buildings . but they reopen thereafter as soon as possible," said spokesperson Dumisani Nkwamba.

"Furthermore, employees who had exposure to a Covid-positive [person] are put on self-quarantine and those who test positive [are put in] isolation, informed by protocols in place in SA. Where possible, offices make alternative service-delivery modes available to ensure sustained service delivery. In some instances offices close for shorter periods."

Labour minister Thulas Nxesi, and his friend and colleague, energy minister Gwede Mantashe, are in hospital being treated for Covid-19.
Labour minister Thulas Nxesi, and his friend and colleague, energy minister Gwede Mantashe, are in hospital being treated for Covid-19.
Image: Sunday Times

The director-general of the department, Yoliswa Makhasi, said the government has worked to ensure that critical services remain fully operational.

"In anticipation of the impact that the pandemic will have on the public service, strategies and plans to mitigate the negative impact have been developed and are currently being implemented by all government departments," said Makhasi.

"All national departments and provincial administrations have been directed to identify the minimum critical services that must and shall remain available to the public during this period of Covid-19 disaster. Such must be informed by risk assessment and determining the socioeconomic impact of the unavailability of services to the citizenry.

"Critical services must be fully operational and be escalated with redeployed resources from noncritical services to where needed. Heads of departments have been directed to consider a rotation system for this group of employees," said Makhasi.

Heads of departments are also able to direct some employees to work from home.

"Covid-19 has forced the public service to rethink the manner in which work is being performed," she said.

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