HOW DOES THE STATE INTEND TO DEAL WITH COVID-19 VICTIMS
With the rapid spread of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the staggering number of deaths globally from the disease and the lock-down measures implemented, many people have resorted to publishing and distributing articles, posts and text messages containing non-verified information, incorrect and blatantly false information. The number of people who have been and can be reached with such false information in a short amount of time through social media channels is both distressing.
Despite the Regulations making it a crime to intentionally publish, in any way or form, any misleading information regarding the COVID-19, a large number of incorrect posts, as to what will happen if you are diagnosed with COVID-19, have been published and circulated on social media.
In this regard, we intend to give you some certainty in respect of some questions as to how the state intends to deal with COVID-19 victims, most of which are answered in the recent Regulations issued by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in terms of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002. The latest amendment to the said regulations were passed on 02 April 2020 “the Regulations”.
Can the state force me to be tested for COVID? Can I refuse testing?
Contact tracing refers to tracing and locating anyone who has been in contact with a COVID-19 positive person. People may not necessarily know that they have been exposed and will continue living their lives and infecting others unintentionally. Accordingly, President Cyril Ramaphosa on 30 March 2020 announced that the Government has decided to undertake targeted screening and testing, using the identified geo-located cases of areas that are high risk and vulnerable. The aim is to curb the spread of the virus in highly populated areas. This undertaking could help those who are less fortunate and cannot necessarily afford to take the test through their own means.
The Department of Health has indicated it is looking at setting upmobile testing labs to test these individuals. It appears that thus far people are not being forced to test, but the Regulations require any person to undergo mandatory testing in order to manage the spread of COVID-19.
Is a person’s COVID status confidential?
Like with many other health tests, one’s status is confidential and will not generally be communicated to the public or to any third person who may request the status. However, the information will be used for database purposes and to trace contact with other individuals to try and flatten the curve.
Legally, what happens once the state identifies that I test positive for COVID?
Being COVID positive, much like having tuberculosis or HIV, is not a criminal offence. You will not be arrested for testing positive. Healthcare practitioners are however within their right to advice that you self-isolate yourself and have minimum contact with others.
Self-isolation while in the incubation period or after having been tested positive is one of vital measures currently used to curb the spread of the virus while scientist and medical professions try to find a cure. This is for the benefit of society, including your loved ones, and should not be seen as punishment by the state.
A few people have to date been charged with attempted murder for exposing others to COVID-19 after testing positive and refusing to self-isolate. On 25 March 2020 a KZN man was charged, followed by another case on 26 March of two tourists visiting the Kruger National Park were charged for not isolating after testing positive.
Although Regulation 11 does not list in detail what chargers one can face if one ignores the regulations and rules regarding isolation, the section clearly states that not following the Lockdown rules could lead to imprisonment or a fine.
Will I be forced to leave my family to self-isolate?
On 19 March 2020, 37 quarantine sites were identified by the government nationwide. These sites are to be utilised by those infected by COVID-19 but cannot self-isolate due to shared residence, residing with the vulnerable (old, pregnant or those with compromised immune systems) or living in informal settlements.
The above sites can only take a limited number of patients, thus those who are able to self-isolate will not be forced to leave their homes.
It needs to be mentioned yet again, that spending time away from your family if you are infected, should not be seen as a punishment but to minimize exposure to others.
The state can only do so much, with the ever-growing statics, it is up to patients to approach the state if they need help with self-isolation. One can also contact one of the many helplines set up to inquire whether they are self-isolating properly.
If a patient is self-isolating privately or in one of the State identified sites, will visitations by family members be permitted?
The short answer to this is no. South Africa is currently under lockdown level 4. The Regulations state that Citizens are only allowed to leave their homes for essentials such as food, medical purposes, urgent use of services such as the bank and those listed as essential services are permitted to leave their homes for work. Visiting healthy family and friends is currently not allowed, neither are visits at hospitals or prisons. [this will change after tonight, 23 April 2020]
How will I be expected to get groceries, supplies, if I test positive?
Many groceries stores have committed themselves to delivering groceries to those who choose to self-isolate completely, whether infected or not. Due to society being aware of COVID-19 strict rules are followed when delivery takes place such as keeping a safe distance and food being dropped off at your door without any physical contact.
You are also allowed to go and buy essential groceries but have to wear a mask at all times and most grocery stores have put in place health protocols to manage store numbers and hand sanitation to protect staff and customers.
Those isolating in locations identified by the State will have the State oversee how they receive their supplies.
If I am admitted to hospital will people be able to visit?
Currently, the lock down level 4 does not allow visitation.
Post lockdown, visitations to hospital might be allowed again. However, there is also a high possibility that visitation will not be allowed at hospitals to ensure the ill and the health workers are best protected from COVID-19 and to reduce the spread of COVID-19 further. Visitations were stopped on 24 March 2020. In any event, it is likely that social distancing practices will still need to be observed until the curb has truly declined.
Moreover, it would not be prudent to allow visitors for those being treated for COVID-19 related symptoms, though until they have been tested again and results are negative, as contact with such patients could contribute to the spread of the virus.
If I die as a result of COVID-19 will my family members be able to identify my body and say their last goodbye?
There is substantial evidence that a body remains infected by COVID-19 and poses a significant risk to infect any person coming into contact with the body. Accordingly, the contact to the remains of a deceased family members (body) is limited. There is some uncertainty around this question, and time will tell how the identification of deceased persons will pan out.
If I die will family members be able to come to my funeral?
Funerals are permitted during lockdown however, strict rules have been put into place, as stated in the Regulations. Only close family members will be allowed to attend the funeral and no more than 50 people will be allowed to attend. Those travelling long distance to attend said funeral will require a sworn affidavit which should include location travelling to and relation to deceased. A copy of the death certificate will also be beneficial.
We are of the opinion that the government is acting in a very strategic and necessary manner at this stage to manage the containment and spread of the COVID-19 virus to the greater population who do not have the financial means and available living space to practice safe social distancing. Yes it does mean our civil liberties are infringed and we do not have the freedom of movement that we would wish to have but until a viable vaccine or cure is available or the health system can deal with increased number of patients suffering from COVID-19 we will all need to readjust our contact practises and follow recommended rules and regulations to protect our families and our broader community. We are all in this together.
For any information or a consultation on an urgent matter contact Jean at firstname.lastname@example.org / 0829250334