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Officials feel abandoned

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The officers indicated that they had not been provided with masks, gloves or sanitisers in their work environments

WHILE the country has taken extraordinary steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), officials on the ground believe that they have been abandoned, pointing out that little has been done, despite assurances, to ensure that they are protected.

According to local Correctional Services officials, few measures have been taken to address the spread of the virus at local centres, despite promises by the Department of Correctional Services Free State/Northern Cape Region to focus on prevention measures for both officials and inmates during the outbreak.

Prison warders expressed their vulnerability yesterday, pointing out they have to deal with hundreds of inmates, behind steel doors, without any form of protective gear.

They added that they felt helpless as their superiors appeared uncertain on the way forward.

Earlier this week the department pledged to implement a comprehensive National Mitigation Plan for Covid-19, of which no cases have been identified in any correctional centres around South Africa yet.

The plan outlines measures to be taken when there are suspected cases as well as confirmed positive cases as prescribed by the Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) of the Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

According to local officials, however, they are working without gloves or masks at local correctional services centres.

The Department of Correctional Services Free State/Northern Cape Region referred media inquiries to its national office. The national spokesperson could, however, not be contacted yesterday.

Sol Plaatje Municipality traffic officers yesterday also raised concerns around their personal safety in the wake of the coronavirus.

The officers indicated that they had not been provided with masks, gloves or sanitisers in their work environments.

They complained that they had to deal closely with the public as well as make exchanges which could expose them to the virus.

“We have to ask every person we stop for their driving licence, which we then have to take and inspect. If we are issuing fines, we have to exchange papers as well as pens with our bare hands.”

Municipal spokesperson Sello Matsie said in response yesterday that the local authority was busy with internal control measures for all staff members.

“We are not irresponsible and the issues raised by our employees are noted. However, we will not address this through the media as we have already issued a press release regarding our plans,” Matsie said.

He pointed out that the municipality had taken note of all the concerns of its workers as well as those of members of the public.

“This is not an internal issue only but also an external one. It involves the entire community and not only municipal employees. We will soon roll out safety campaigns for the public and employees.”

Matsie said the municipality had been engaging with vendors for the procurement of items like masks, gloves and sanitisers. He said consultations were also under way regarding the use of breathalysers to test alcohol levels in drivers.

“We should not only be dealing with complaints but we must also be proactive. We urge everyone to try and relax during these times. We are all scared and nervous,” he concluded.