Police officers refuse to go to work after 9 cops tested positive for coronavirus
Police officers at a Tembisa police station, in Ekurhuleni, and Douglasdale, northern Joburg, mooted a work boycott yesterday as two of their colleagues tested positive for COVID-19 – prompting some to refuse to go to work while others worked from the police parking area.
Police union Popcru said an initial lack of protective gear might have rendered some officers susceptible to infection, arguing that officers were within their rights to demand to be tested to ensure the possible spread of the virus was contained.
According national police commissioner Khehla Sitole, during a media briefing, at least nine law enforcement officers have tested positive for Covid-19 while on duty nationwide.
Unionists said if infected police stations were not attended to with speed, this could replicate the disaster that unfolded at the Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban, where more than 47 staff and doctors, and 15 patients, were infected.
“The problem here is that we are the ones who must enforce the lockdown instruction by the president, but we are also afraid of contaminating this in the course of arrests, searches and inspections of licences and so on. If one gets infected out in the streets, all of us are at great risk. If we don’t work, the whole country is at risk,” said a police officer.
Yesterday, Douglasdale police station was evacuated by medical personnel who disinfected the station after a police officer tested positive for Covid-19.
In Tembisa, officers are demanding that they be tested before going back to work as they fear they might have contracted the virus from a colleague who is now in self-isolation.
The warrant officer, who cannot be named for legal reasons, allegedly took leave after he took ill for an unconfirmed ailment. However, upon visiting a doctor, he was diagnosed with the coronavirus, and was advised by the doctor to consider self-isolation.
Soon after his colleagues got wind of his status, they allegedly demanded to stay at home fearing they might have been infected. “All officers at the station are saying that they want to be tested first before going back to work. They are all scared and think they were also infected,” said one of the officers attached to the station.
National police spokeswoman Vish Naidoo confirmed a police officer at the station had tested positive for Covid-19 but said the officer contracted the virus while on leave. He said the officer had not been in contact with other officers at the station because at the time of the test, he had been at home for some time.
However, Naidoo said there were officers who wanted to exploit the situation by demanding that they be allowed to stay at home until they are tested.
“We have advised that those who might have had contact with the officer must self-isolate as per the precautionary measures on Covid-19. But there’s no report that shows that any of the officers at the station had contact with the officer,” he said.
Popcru spokesman Richard Mamabolo said the union had been informed of numerous members who had tested positive for Covid-19. He said the members had contracted the virus due to a shortage of personal protective equipment, the problem that he said has since been resolved.
“Those officers, who are at the frontline of fighting this pandemic have since been replaced,” he said.
“In respect of what happened at Tembisa police station, we urge the police to sanitise the stations while also testing officers to ensure that they don’t infect others,” said Mamabolo.
He said the officers were right to demand that they be tested before resuming their duties, but cautioned it should be done soon as it might lead the station to close. Mamabolo’s concerns were also shared by other officers who said that closing the station could lead to lawlessness in Tembisa.
In Douglasdale, police officers yesterday worked from the police station’s parking lot as they feared the building might have been contaminated with the coronavirus. They are also worried that the infected colleague might have possibly infected them as he had interacted with them before testing positive.
A cop, who did not want to be named, said they had abandoned the building for fear of infection. “But the medical personnel has just arrived and are now in the building to deal with the matter,” said the cop from the scene.
We urge police to sanitise stations while also testing officers to ensure they don’t infect others
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