How funeral drove Nelson Mandela Bay’s infection spike

Twenty-eight mourners test positive

A third of all cases of Covid-19 in Nelson Mandela Bay stem from the KwaDwesi funeral of a retired nurse that took place in March
A third of all cases of Covid-19 in Nelson Mandela Bay stem from the KwaDwesi funeral of a retired nurse that took place in March

A third of all cases of Covid-19 in Nelson Mandela Bay stem from the KwaDwesi funeral of a retired nurse that took place in March.

So far, 28 people who attended the March 21 funeral have tested positive for the infection caused by the coronavirus. One later died.

The total  number of Covid-19 cases in  the Bay stood at 84 on Friday.

The funeral started at a house in KwaDwesi with the procession making its way to a nearby Methodist church — where 1,200 people attended.

At that time, gatherings of more than 100 people had already been prohibited after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national disaster because of the pandemic a week earlier.

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane and health MEC Sindiswa Gomba have attributed the spike in confirmed cases in the city to this funeral.

Health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said of the 1,200 people who were in attendance, 185 had been traced since April 1.

“Immediately after a person who attended the funeral tested positive we started tracing others.

“We have traced more as second generation [people who  been in contact with the mourners] and so far that number is 100,” he said.

Manana said 28 people — ranging in age from 29-76 — had tested positive after they attended the funeral.

Several overseas guests who had travelled from England and Dubai had also been present, he said.

He said the municipality and department had put up flyers urging residents to come forward if they had attended the funeral.

“So far, the information we have received is that a huge number of people attended, which the tracing team is looking at.”

The Nelson Mandela Bay municipality’s Covid-19 disaster management forum has set up a toll-free number for all those who had attended a funeral so they can call and be tested.

Municipal spokesperson Mthubanzi Mniki said they had received more than 150 calls so far.

The retired nurse, who died in early March, is not being named to prevent further stigmatisation against the family.

A 66-year-old retired nurse, who lived in Central, had attended the woman’s  funeral.

She later tested positive for Covid-19,  became severely ill, was admitted to Livingstone Hospital and died on April 9.

“She had been in a coma for about a week and was placed at Livingstone Hospital where she unfortunately succumbed to Covid-19,” Gomba said.

Weekend Post on Thursday visited the husband of the retired nurse who had died in March, but he  declined to comment.

Nelson Mandela Bay has also recorded its highest jump in new cases — 15 — on Thursday, according to figures released by provincial health MEC Sindiswa Gomba yesterday.

A total of 142,326 people have been screened in the province since the mass testing campaign started, while 3,413 tests were conducted by April 15.

“These statistics show that 6.4% of the tests were positive for Covid-19.

“The increase in the number and positivity rate is due to an increase in our efforts to identify all individuals exposed to the Covid-19 virus,” Gomba said.

She expressed deep concern about the contribution of funeral gatherings to the increase in overall infections in the province.

“We have scientific evidence that funeral gatherings are a major contributory factor in the increase of positive cases in our province.”

The KwaDwesi funeral was conducted by Methodist church superintendent circuit minister Siyabonga Mazaleni.

Despite the large number of people who tested positive after attending the funeral, Methodist Bishop Jacob Freemantle insisted that it was not the source of the outbreak in the city.

He said the church had been trying to dispel the notion that the funeral contributed to the increase in cases of Covid-19 in the city.

“According to Mazaleni, all hygienic equipment had been distributed during the service and all precautionary measures had been taken,”  Freemantle said.

“When the minister conducted the service  he did not know that there would be international guests coming from countries such as Dubai and the UK.

“He said at the time of the funeral there were a few positive cases in the country and only 100 people had been allowed into the church.

“I was assured that people who entered the building were sanitised and the minister also enlisted the help of police in terms of crowd control.”

On Gomba and Mabuyane attributing the city’s increase of Covid-19 cases to the funeral, he said: “When our leaders speak on this issue they should refrain from stigmatising the family because this whole situation is traumatising.”

He said the family had lost a loved one while the church had lost a faithful member.

“Statements that have been made in the media have traumatised not only the family but the church as well,” he said.

Freemantle said he was not happy that the nurse had been named in the media.

“The family is traumatised and needs a counsellor.

“Mazaleni also needs ministering during this time.”

Gomba’s spokesperson, Judy Ngoloyi, said the government had not just singled out the funeral.

“People were given a questionnaire to fill in and the common denominator was that a majority said they either went to the KwaDwesi funeral or came into contact with someone who attended the funeral.

“The funeral was not singled out but our statistics pointed it out.”