Thursday, August 6, 2020

COVID-19 infected nurse case in court

Restricted details on how the Botswana nurse who recently serviced Parliament was infected by the coronavirus are expected to be brought to light in a case in which Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) is suing government for exposing its members to the deadly virus.

In crude poetic justice, after the nurse tested positive to coronavirus, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, his executive, legislators and a number of senior government officials had to be quarantined for 14 days because the nurse worked from parliament the day before her results came out.

In their court records, BONU argues that Botswana’s alleged failure to adhere to guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) in respect to Covid-19 among them provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) resulted in the nurse contracting the virus.

In his replying affidavit, the Director of Health Service Dr. Malaki Tshipayagae said the allegations that the nurse could have contracted the virus due to lack of personal protective equipment are “dangerously speculative.”

In their papers before Justice Godfrey Radijeng, scores of nurses who have disposed a string of affidavits accuse the government of failing in its duty by not providing them and other health workers with personal protective equipment (PPE).

In his founding affidavit, Botswana Nurses Union (BONU) Secretary General, Lebogang Philip states that “this lack of protective clothing has actually led to the first case of a health worker, the nurse who tested positive leading to the quarantine exercise on the Members of Parliament on 19th April 2020.”

The names of the nurse in question are known to this publication.  

Philip said “unfortunately due to the fact that the said nurse has now been subjected to mandatory quarantine at Sir Ketumile Masire Hospital whereat he is not supposed to make any contact with any person it has been impossible for the Applicant to obtain a confirmatory affidavit from him.”

In separate affidavits nurses state that while scores of Batswana are confined to their homes during the lockdown, thousands of health workers are at the forefront against the virus risking their lives and those of their families in the process.

Therefore, nurses demand that the government take all the measures in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation to ensure their health and safety and all other health professionals in the workplace.

They also demand that the government should provide them and all other health professionals involved in screening for Covid-19 with all the necessary protective gear as per the applicable laws and regulations as well as measures commensurate to levels of exposures to danger.

They also want government to provide them with accommodation in isolation from their families and other members of the community during their shifts and for 14 days quarantine after their final shift or last interface with suspects of quarantined individuals.

Philip said that the Government has failed to provide safe working conditions to the health workers directly involved in the fight against Covid-19 by not providing elementary personal protective clothing like disposal gowns and protective eyewear.

He states that the government has endangered health and safety of the family members of each health of the workers who are exposed to coronavirus by not putting measures in place to ensure that when they have worked the day in vulnerable environments, they are provided with isolated accommodation for a period of at least 14 days after their final shift.

He said that initially in a letter dated 31 March addressed to BONU’s erstwhile attorneys, the government had made an undertaking to take all the measure that are reasonably necessary and in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organization and to ensure that health and safety of all the nurses and other health professionals in the workplace.

Philip said the government had also made an undertaking that the frontline health professionals will be accommodated in isolation from their families and members of the community. They would further be quarantined for 14 days after their final shift or last interface with suspects or quarantined individuals.

Phillip said the government has either “fully failed to perform in terms of its undertaking in some areas whilst in some areas it has partly or insufficiently performed.”

Some nurses said the government had either failed or refused to provide isolate accommodation as undertaken for health workers involved in screening people arriving in Botswana through Tlokweng Border Post from South Africa which is already an affected country with high numbers of positive cases. Other nurses stationed at Ramatlabama and other border posts also alleged that they were not provided with PPE while other nurses at Block 8 and Kanye said they were not provided with protective gear despite the fact that they were testing coronavirus suspects.

Replying, the Director of Health Service Dr. Malaki Tshipayagae said the allegations that the nurse could have contracted the virus due to lack of personal protective equipment are “dangerously speculative.”

“The said have not been confirmed by the said (nurse) and particularly by any health expert,” he said. According to Malaki, infection by the virus can occur in a lot of ways and may also be due to self-infection as a result of improper handling of personal protective equipment and not the lack of them.

Tshipayagae said isolation accommodation is provided to those working at isolation centers. “These workers are further appropriately quarantined for 14 days after their final shift. Those in points of entry are not provided with isolate accommodation in terms of the relevant protocol. Applicant’s demands for isolated accommodation for its members stationed at Tlokweng border Post are therefore unfounded,” said Tshipayagae.

He said on 31st march 2020, the government made an undertaking to provide measures that are reasonably necessary and in line with the guidelines of the World Health Organization. Tshipayagae said BONU never placed the government “in mora (in default) when there was no breach of the undertaking.”

He added that government “strongly avers that the Applicant (BONU) has not in any way demonstrated any actionable breach whatsoever with either the undertaking that was made by neither the Respondents (  Ministry of Health, Director of Health Services) nor any of the relevant laws of this country.”

BONU and its members are represented by Gobhoza Legal Practice while the government is represented by the Attorney General. 

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Sunday Standard August 2 – 8

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of August 2 - 8, 2020.