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Pharmacy staff fearful of Covid-19

Isaac Mahlangu Senior reporter
Dis-Chem staff feel anxious. / Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle
Dis-Chem staff feel anxious. / Gallo Images/Luba Lesolle

Several Dis-Chem Pharmacy employees say they are fearful and anxious about going to work after more than a dozen of their colleagues tested positive for Covid-19.

About 15 employees at two Johannesburg branches returned to work without being tested to ascertain that they were now free of the virus, sparking fears among their colleagues.

Although according to the department of employment & labour there was no requirement to re-test after the mandatory 14-day quarantine, workers told Sowetan they're uncertain if their colleagues were free of the virus or not.

At least 10 employees at a Dis-Chem Pharmacy at Verdi Shopping Centre in Randburg returned to work this week after self-quarantining for 14 days.

At the Randparkridge Dis-Chem Pharmacy, west of Johannesburg, five employees among a dozen who also tested positive last month were also back at work.

HR director at Dis-Chem, Caryn Eliasov-Barker, said: "Any staff that have returned to work have been in isolation for at least 14 days. There is no retesting necessary after this period and staff return to work. No staff that have been tested and awaiting results are at the store - tested staff are isolated until results received."

She said this was in "line with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and department of health policy and protocol, that all persons with Covid-19 are to self-isolate for 14 days. After this period, they are no longer required to isolate and are free to leave isolation and return to work".

"Government has instructed that Covid-19 tests are to be prioritised as far as possible for testing of symptomatic persons and not to be used for retesting after isolation. Our protocol is that staff return to work after 14 days and we do not have to retest."

She said all staff are screened on a daily basis.

"When there is a positive test received, all staff are again screened by the qualified nursing sister on site and close contacts are immediately tested and isolated until their results are received," she said.

However, employees including cashiers, consultants and merchandisers at the two branches, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Sowetan that they were worried about their safety.

An employee scheduled to return to work this week said they were still unsure if they had fully recovered from Covid-19.

"My manager reminded me the other day that I'm expected back at work because my 14 days of isolation are lapsing. It seems they don't care about us and our health, they just want us back at work."

Another employee said: "I don't know if I still have Covid-19 or not but as per my manager's orders I'm back at work."

Another employee who was also back at work said: "I don't know what to touch or not because I'm not sure if I've fully recovered."

Employees also expressed concerns that their managers had on numerous occasions disinfected the store by themselves after an employee tested positive. "Our manager would shut the shop and fumigate it himself and two hours later we are back in business."

Dis-Chem did not respond to Sowetan's questions about this.

Employees also complained about being made to pay R500 should their Covid-19 test return negative, claiming others had opted not to test as a result, even though they suspected they could have been in contact with colleagues who tested positive.

"Dis-Chem has instituted a token charge of R500, well below the cost price, to discourage arbitrary demands for testing at a time when the country's healthcare providers and laboratories are already overloaded," Eliasov-Barker said.

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