66 at South African hospital have coronavirus, mostly staff

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Sixty-six people at a single hospital in South Africa have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past few days, the Health Minister said on Tuesday, as anxiety rose among health workers over the shortage of protective gear.

At least 48 of the people who tested positive at St Augustine’s Hospital in the city of Durban are staff, Zweli Mkhize said. He said authorities are looking into closing parts of the facility.

The minister also sought to ease the fears of health workers after one union went to court last week pressing the government for more protective gear. South Africa’s supplies should last up to eight weeks, he said, adding that no one will be forced to work where they feel unprotected.

St Augustine’s is one of Durban’s largest private hospitals, said Denis Chopera, a virologist working in the city.

“This definitely shows the problem of protecting our health care workers,” he said. “These health care workers are going to go home and infect their families.

“Many will return home to townships and informal settlements that are crowded where the virus could spread. There needs to be regular, frequent testing of workers. This is a big challenge for South Africa.”

“This is an untenable situation. Front-line medical staff must be protected at all times,” the chair of the South African Medical Association Angelique Coetzee, said last week.

South Africa, the most developed country in Africa, has the most confirmed virus cases on the continent with more than 1,700. The Health Minister said fewer than 100 people across the country are currently hospitalized.

Masked medical staff walk outside the St Augustines Hospital in Durban, South Africa. PHOTO: AP