Covid-19 South Africa roadblock testing
A temperature check during a roadblock in Durban earlier this year. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
  • Gauteng is concerned about residents returning to the province after holidaying in high-risk areas
  • Roadside screening and, when available, rapid antigen tests will be implemented to identify Covid-19 carriers before they reach home.
  • Motorists and passengers who display Covid-19 symptoms may be be tested and if positive will need to self-isolate in quarantine.  
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In an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 during the busy festive season, law enforcement operations conducted on South Africa’s roads will include screenings for symptoms and even rapid antigen tests - designed to tell in a few minutes whether someone is infectious - where resources allow.

These preventative measures will be especially common for motorists and travellers returning to Gauteng towards the end of the holiday period. Concerns around the movement of residents from low-risk transmission areas, like Gauteng, to high-risk areas and hotspots, like Nelson Mandela Bay, have been raised by health experts, including chief ministerial advisor, professor Salim Abdool Karim.

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement confirming Nelson Mandela Bay’s status as a Covid-19 hotspot, which will be subjected to stricter regulations over the festive period, provincial governments are looking to add roadside screenings to their safety campaigns.

“The Gauteng Provincial Government is concerned [about] travellers returning from hotspots areas and how this could result in an increased infection rate in Gauteng,” says Kwara Kekana, the spokesperson for the MEC of Health in the province. “There shall be heightened surveillance all over the place as well as aggressive health promotion and communications activities that talk to this concern.”

Part of this Resurgence Mitigation Plan will include, where feasible, screening and testing at roadblocks on key access routes into Gauteng. In line with the containment strategy enforced at airports, whereby overseas visitors are screened for Covid-19 symptoms upon arrival, Kekana says similar systems can be integrated into roadblock operations.

“If needs be, roadblocks for screening purposes will have to be mounted at strategic areas as was done during the first surge, particularly after the festive season,” explains Kekana. “Those identified with symptoms of the disease will immediately be isolated and tested.”

The Gauteng Health Department has also suggested the use of rapid antigen tests – which generally produce a result within 15 minutes – where those resources are available and most needed. Alternatively, those displaying symptoms will undergo a nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal PCR swab test.

“The usual screenings for temperature and the basic symptoms of Covid-19, such as fever, cough, sore throat, generalised body weakness, loss of taste and smell, difficulty in breathing are amongst the lot,” says Kekana.

“Where the Department has the facilities, they will be tested on the spot at the roadblocks. Where this is not possible, they will be referred to the nearest health care facility for testing.”

If the test is positive, the person will have to self-isolate in quarantine.  

While Gauteng is most at risk of a travel-induced second wave, with the yearly migration of inland holidaymakers leading directly to high-risk coastal regions, the Western Cape government, which is battling a surge of infections in Cape Town and along the Garden Route, has also adopted roadside screenings into its arsenal.

“Where practical and where healthcare resources allow, as part of operations such as vehicle check points, fatigue management sites and roadblocks, screening may be done,” says James-Brent Styan, spokesperson for the Western Cape minister of local government, environmental affairs and development planning, Anton Bredell.

“Where a person displays classic Covid-19 symptoms, they will be requested to contact a healthcare facility [or] provincial hotline to be advised on whether they should be tested or self-isolate.”

Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula has also confirmed that public transport services – predominantly busses and taxis – will be subject to compliance inspections at roadblocks over the festive season. Long distance taxis are only allowed to operate at 70% capacity and must travel with windows open to offer better ventilation.

“In keeping with our message of not allowing public transport to serve as a super spreader activity, our law enforcement officers at roadblocks will put measures in place to enforce the Covid-19 regulations and directions,” explained Ramaphosa during the launch of the 2020 Festive Season Road Safety Campaign on 1 December 2020.

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