Chaos at border as locals troop back

BY NQOBANI NDLOVU

ZIMBABWEANs returning from South Africa have expressed frustration over confusing processes they are subjected to before admission to Covid-19 quarantine centres in Beitbridge.

The confusion has seen some returnees escaping the quarantine centre at the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) hotel in the border town.

Last week 19 people escaped from the facility, bringing to 27 the number of escapees from the hotel turned Covid-19 quarantine centre.

About eight returnees were the first to escape from the facility a week after it was opened to handle returning residents.

“I am still at the NSSA quarantine centre, but not admitted. I arrived today early in the morning (Saturday, 16) but still have not been attended to up to now at 8pm,” said a returning resident, who requested to remain anonymous.

“I am personally appalled at the level of incompetence and the government’s ill-preparedness.

“Nothing has been said, we are just waiting. And we have children, who are now restless and starving.”

Another returnee said: “We arrived at the Zimbabwe border in the morning around 6am, and other buses got here earlier.

“We were made to remain in our buses for hours with no assistance.

“Border officials didn’t seem like they knew what to do with us.

“We were given forms to fill in and passports were taken from those who had them.”

“There were about 10 or more buses that came from South Africa with the assistance of the Zimbabwe consulate and the International Organisation of Migration.

We were screened in South Africa and all was well,” another returnee narrated.

“We left the border around 4pm and proceeded to the quarantine centre.

“It was packed and social distancing was not being observed. Other buses waited outside including the bus I am in.

“We were not briefed. We do not know what is taking place and we are just waiting.

“Apparently we are supposed to be tested and screened, but no one has addressed us.

“We do not know where we will be quarantined or what is going to happen.

“People have not eaten, my worry are the children who are now exhausted, restless and hungry.”

Matabeleland South provincial medical director Ruth Chikodzore said the quarantine centre was under the Ministry of Social Welfare with the Health ministry only undertaking health checks on returnees.

“We work with different agencies, the police, immigration and others. As the Health ministry, our task is to do screening, checking temperatures and conducting rapid diagnostic tests for Covid-19 on the returnees upon arrival,” Chikodzore said.

“If one tests positive, we then isolate and do confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

“Once we do the screening, the Social Welfare ministry takes over, and that is when the police also come to ensure compliance to prevent, among others, people from escaping.”

Totamirepi Tirivavi, the director of social welfare in the Ministry of Public Service and Social Welfare, was not reachable for comment.

Matabeleland South police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Philisani Ndebele refused to comment about incidences of returnees escaping from the quarantine facility.

The quarantine centre has capacity to accommodate 280 people, but government has set the maximum at 150.

Beitbridge border post is the busiest port of entry into the country, posing a health risk at a time when other countries have imposed rafts of measures including total lockdowns to combat the spread of the disease.

The 140-bed Beitbridge hotel was formerly leased by the Rainbow Tourism Group who shut it down in 2016 following years of successive losses.

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