NEHAWU STATEMENT ON THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF A NEW VARIANT OF COVID-19
Saturday December 19, 2020
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) notes the announcement of the new variant of COVID-19 by the Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize.
The new variant is said to have dominated the findings of samples collected over the past two months and is believed to be the driving force behind the second wave currently taking place in the country. As NEHAWU, we are worried about the rapid pace of transmissions of the new variant and call on all our people to be more careful and to protect themselves and their loved ones from getting infected.
We note that scientists are still learning more about the new variant. In this regard, we hope that they will be supported by government in order to take forward their work especially by the Department of Science and Innovation in terms of funding.
We note the comments by the Minister of health that no extra measures needed in dealing with the new variant, however, even during the first wave government and the Department of Health assured us that they would be able to handle the virus. Even with those assurances, government was underprepared and this resulted into a lacklustre response to the outbreak of the virus in the country. Many people have lost their lives and government cannot gamble with people’s lives by making assurances they cannot fulfil.
In this regard, we call on our government and the Department of Health to pay more attention this time around and focus on saving lives instead of making empty statements. Government cannot afford to be caught flat-footed like they did in March 2020 and this necessitate the introduction of extra measures to combat the spread of the second wave and the new variant.
Unfortunately, this announcement arrives while we are faced with the revelation that the N95 masks that are being used by our members and workers to protect themselves from COVID-19 infections have failed safety test. Majority of the masks are from China and are used by workers in high risk areas like COVID-19 wards. These sub-standard masks are exposing our members and workers to the virus and this is shown by the statistics announced by the President on the 14th December 2020 that over 38 000 health workers in the public sector have tested positive for coronavirus and nearly 5000 workers were admitted to hospital including 391 fatalities. NEHAWU has always highlighted the importance of providing sufficient and quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and this includes taking the Minister of Health to court in April 2020 to force him and his department to provide these lifesaving safety clothes.
We call on government and the Department of Health to recall all the poor quality masks and ensure that workers are given sufficient and quality PPEs. Suppliers must be thoroughly screened and those found to be guilty of poor workmanship must be blacklisted and made to pay a fine. We will join our sister union, the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA), in taking legal action if government does not sort out this mess with immediate effect.
If all fails we will not hesitate to withdraw our labour power in the healthcare sector to save the lives of workers. Our members and workers cannot continue to lose their lives because government is failing to protect them by ensuring that they work in safe working conditions and are provided with proper tools of trade.
Continuous updates with all stakeholders especially trade unions must be prioritised so that there is a buy-in of the frontline workers who are expected to confront this new enemy including the old one that is still killing our people. NEHAWU once more declares its unwavering support to the government in curbing the spread of the virus. We will vigorously continue with our awareness campaign targeting our members, workers and the public.
We note the commitment by the Minister to continuously update the public, however, we want to reiterate our long standing position that government must ramp up its awareness campaign with the aim to disseminate lifesaving information to all corners of the country with a specific attention to townships and rural areas.
While appreciating the commitment to provide more psychosocial assistance for frontline workers we want to remind the Minister that these workers are still frustrated by the non-payment of salary increases and danger allowance or moral incentive.
NEHAWU salutes all its members and workers who gallantly go beyond the call of duty mostly under adverse conditions which includes understaffing, exhaustion, and other life-threatening situations to test, treat and quarantine those infected or suspected to be infected. However, we will continue to encourage our members and workers not to work if their lives are in danger.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat, 19 December 2020