Thursday, July 2, 2020

The ugly side of the Covid-19 Task Force: Ramotswa and Block 8 incidences

The Covid-19 Task Force which is at the forefront of managing and containing the Covid-19 pandemic has, generally speaking, done fairly well given the circumstances under which it is operating. The speed under which it was assembled to deal with the invincible monster, the reported budgetary constraints and other unforeseen challenges cannot be understated. For operating under these circumstances and more importantly managing to keep Covid-19 pandemic figures under control so far, the Task Force deserves a pat on the back. But two major incidences somewhat put a black spot on the otherwise fairly good job. These are the Ramotswa and Block 8 clinic incidences which in my view, should have been routine medical cases appropriately and diligently handled. From a distance and as a layman, a Covid-19 test doesn’t appear too complicated to perform and consequently, results shouldn’t be a tough ask for the tested to receive. But not so for the Ramotswa and Block 8 incidences it would appear. 

As the dust over these incidences seemed to be settling somewhat on the surface, serious and concerning undercurrents to the concerned and aggrieved parties who allegedly had tested positive for Covid-19, were meanwhile gathering traction. A new twist has since emerged particularly from one side where serious allegations against the Covid-19 Task Force are made. It is fair to mention that this far and owing to the new twist, the Covid-19 Task Force has not, to the best of my knowledge, come out publicly to offer its own version to the new twist presumably on account that these matters are before court. For the time being, I will rely on what the aggrieved parties have put on the table. It would appear from what the aggrieved parties are alleging with respect to the conduct of the Covid-19 Task Force handling of their Covid-19 tests for the virus that something fundamentally wrong may have taken place. It is on the basis of these that I hold the view that there is potentially an ugly side of the Covid-19 Task Force. These incidences-cum-new-twists should they be correct, have somewhat eroded the confidence some members of the community may have had on the Task Force.

The long and short of these incidences is that the Vice President announced on national television that a Ramotswa-born senior citizen aged 79 years had passed on as a result of succumbing to the Covid-19 virus after attending a funeral in the South African village of Motswedi. It later turned out according to her family that the death certificate stated that she had passed on as a result of Asthma and respiratory complications. The official position is that the senior citizen succumbed to Covid-19-a position heavily disputed by her family. This leaves the contradiction, on the face of it, between the family and the Covid-19 Task Force over the true cause of the senior citizen’s death. Information in the public domain indicates that all people from Motswedi and Botswana who had had contact with the senior citizen have all tested negative for Covid-19. The family says that Covid-19 Task Force have so far failed to avail the medical documents that indeed show that the senior citizen’s death was indeed as a result of being Covid-19 positive. This on the face of it should be a red flag. Why would a grieving family be denied the Covid-19 results of one of their own whether positive or negative? Because this death is the first Covid-19 in this country assuming the official position is correct, wouldn’t it have been, at a bare minimum, a courtesy protocol for the Covid-19 Task Force to visit the family and hand over the results? I am just saying! How could a team made up of doctors of immense repute fail to pay attention to detail in the senior citizen’s case? 

Second in the seemingly incompetent conduct of the Task Force is the case of the Block 8 nurse. On national television this time by the Minister of Health and Wellness, it was announced that a nurse who had screened Members of Parliament and others at the extraordinary meeting of parliament early in April 2020 the previous day, had tested positive. The said nurse in court papers meanwhile draws a pathetic scene of how his own case was (mis)handled by the same Covid-19 Task Force in more respect than one – how he was taken from pillar to post for demanding the result that confirms he indeed tested positive if at all; how he was admitted at Sir Ketumile Masire Hospital without the Covid-19 positive results. On what basis would the hospital receive a Covid-19 suspect without corresponding initial test results; what would the hospital be treating him for? Shouldn’t the hospital have demanded test results before admitting him? Just how is it administratively possible he was informed that he had tested positive on 9 April 2020 only to receive (disputed) initial test results as he calls them on 24 April 2020 when he was discharged from Sir Ketumile-a period of about 16 days? If indeed he had tested positive, why would he up to now been struggling or better still, cap in hand as it would appear, begging for his own results? The results are his and nobody’s after all. Accepting on the basis of the Ramotswa case that something fundamentally wrong had gone so fundamentally wrong, one would expect that the Covid-19 Task Force would have learnt the hard way and wouldn’t repeat the ‘mistake’. The Block 8 case again on the understanding of what is contained in court papers, suggests that more of the same still obtained.

Without playing down the significance of the Ramotswa case to the ugly side of the Covid-19 Task Force, let me focus on the Block 8 one because there is a fundamental and profound context to it. And that is, that it proved beyond any reasonable doubt that politics took precedence over science. I have said it before and I repeat it herein that the Task Force sat hopelessly and helplessly when the Minister of Health and Wellness made the announcement of the Block 8 nurse. Needless to say and on the presumption that the management of Covid-19 programme was essentially science-based, science should have, expectedly, taken charge immediately after the positive verdict was pronounced. That is, Covid-19 protocols in cases where a positive individual had come into contact with other members of the society should have been immediately and strictly applied and enforced. What resulted was the pathetic and out of sorts posture and conduct of the Task Force.   

It will be remembered that around mid-May this year after the lockdown restrictions were relaxed, Gaborone was declared a high risk area during a special broadcast on national television after a truck driver who had arrived from South Africa, had tested positive. This is the driver who was reported to have made contact with many people including businesses such as Choppies at the Fairground mall, Puma filling station and the CA Sale and Distribution centre. Shouldn’t the Boipuso hall have been declared a high risk area given that the President, Vice President, Members of Parliament and almost all Ministers together with senior government officials were in attendance? It was not to be as science glaringly played second fiddle to politics I argue. This is a serious indictment, I am tempted to believe, on the integrity of the Task Force. They instead chose to look the other way when they were supposed to step to the plate to enforce Covid-19 protocols.

Then out of the blues came the announcement that public transport was reverting to full carrying capacity. This means the other leg of the three-pronged Covid-19 preventative measure is no longer applicable in public transport. And that is social distancing. I am not by any measure downplaying the economic hardships the transport sector experienced as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. Several other sectors have suffered the same fate. The Task Force has not up to now informed the nation as to whether their overall testing for Covid-19 suggests it is safe to ‘compromise’ social distancing in the public transport sector.

In conclusion, credit is perfectly due to the Covid-19 Task Force for having put all measures humanly possible to contain and manage the pandemic. This should be acknowledged without any qualms. It may have been worse and catastrophic. But on the other side of the coin and in my view, the Task Force appears to have committed two fundamental errors of judgement on the Ramotswa and the Block 8 nurse issues. The jury is however still out there. These cases may have created doubts in other people’s minds to the authenticities of the Covid-19 results it has disseminated to the public. That said, I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself! 

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.