Date: 11 July 2020 By: Andries van Zyl
A WhatsApp message warning Louis Trichardt residents to keep safe amidst a scourge of local Covid-19 infections caused major panic and has left a number of people fuming.
In the voice note, an as-yet-unidentified man says: “Hi! Just found out that Werda Toyota has a few positive cases of Covid … Thompson’s has a few positive cases and Doctor Gaigher was tested positive on Sunday. Now his whole practice is being tested and the private hospital section is also going to be tested ... There is a few other companies who also have a few positive cases of Covid in Louis Trichardt itself. So just warn family members and friends and so forth they must just be safe.”
The message apparently started circulating on Tuesday. Those left fuming are the business owners and managers of the companies and facilities “implicated” in the message. Their main argument was that Covid-19 was a reality and although some truth might be found in what the man was saying, the way in which the message was conveyed as a “warning” had unnecessarily tarnished those companies’ and facilities’ reputation. Their anger must be seen against the backdrop of recent calls by President Cyril Ramaphosa and other health professionals to stop stigmatising people with the virus. Furthermore, they felt the message was fuelling unnecessary panic at a time when the Vhembe region (and the province and country as a whole) was experiencing a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases. The spike in cases was, however, predictable when looking at the worldwide trend (For more on this, read the article on page 2).
"Nobody at the Zoutpansberg Private Hospital tested positive, nor are we at present busy testing any of our staff members. Rumours in town about our hospital are irresponsible and can be seen as fake news, for which you can be prosecuted. This rumour is also spreading unnecessary panic and is wasting healthcare workers’ precious time - time they should be focusing on the pandemic,” said Ms Anneke Stroebel, facility manager of the Zoutpansberg Private Hospital.
Thompson’s Motors also issued a public statement early on Wednesday morning. “At Thompson's VW, we strongly believe in keeping our community and staff safe from all danger, including the Covid-19 virus. We have put very strict and stringent protocols in place to avoid infections from occurring or spreading. As a result of our strict measures, we were able to identify symptoms in a single staff member early and were able to keep him away from contact with customers and other staff. He was quarantined immediately and sent for testing immediately. Our premises were cleaned and sanitised immediately, and all precautions and protocols of the NICD (National Institute for Communicable Diseases) were implemented. We had a second test done on another staff member sharing an office and the test result was negative. We are Covid-19 free and 100% safe but will not stop following the rules and protocols to ensure that we can detect any symptoms early, as this one was, and thus avoid the spread of the virus. If any other business in our community has a positive case, please feel free to call Quentin Thompson on 0824582107 if anyone has any questions. I would like to offer my help with possible advice on how to handle the situation when it occurs. Thank you, and be safe,” the statement reads. “We had one case, not a few. The fact is the virus is real and is going to spread. There is not much you can do about it but to try and keep safe by sanitising regularly, wearing your mask, and keeping your social distance,” added Quentin.
The voice note comes amidst a growing belief that the real number of people who are Covid-19 positive might be far higher than reported. The reason for this is that many people might get sick and not even know it or show any severe symptoms. Only in more serious cases where people get sick are tests done to confirm a (positive) result.
The dealer principal of NTT Toyota Louis Trichardt (Werda), Mr Warren Demos, was also very upset about the message. “People are going to Checkers, Clicks, everywhere, every day. If you think for one moment that you can walk into stores like these and not bump into somebody who might have the coronavirus, you are stupid. The reality is, it is everywhere,” said Demos. Having said this, he confirmed that they had also had only one confirmed case, not a few as stated in the voice note.
Demos said that one of his staff members started feeling sick last week. The staff member was immediately sent home. The man was then tested, with a positive test result coming back on Sunday. “He can return to work next Wednesday,” said Demos. In the meantime, Demos added that a total of eight persons, including himself, who might have been infected by the staff member had been tested. All the tests were negative. “At present, we are sanitizing our whole building three times a week. Every car coming in and every car going out is sanitised,” said Demos. This is apart from the normal Covid-19 protocols they follow. “Don’t believe everything you hear, especially on social media platforms like WhatsApp. We are one of the most stringent businesses when it comes to the safety of our staff and customers in town,” said Demos.
The most outspoken of all was probably Dr Fred Badenhorst, Dr Emil Gaigher’s partner and friend. Dr Badenhorst confirmed that Dr Gaigher had indeed tested positive, adding that he was in self-isolation and no reason to panic existed. Whether true or not, Badenhorst said, the voice note about Dr Gaigher was uncalled for. “Idiots like these who just want to spread panic are making our work even more difficult,” said Badenhorst. He added that most of their Covid-19 patients were recovering at home and were in a stable and safe condition. “We trust that they will recover soon,” said Badenhorst. Unfortunately, Badenhorst said, they have had one local Covid-19 fatality, adding that in so many of the fatal Covid-19 cases the patient had been suffering from multiple comorbidities.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.