Cape Town - As the death toll from the dreaded coronavirus reaches 1 000 in China alone, South African postal workers have refused to handle packages originating from that country unless they were issued with protective masks and gloves.

While packages from China piled up at mail-sorting centres around the country, the SA Post Office (Sapo), relented and ordered workers to wear masks.

Gauteng provincial chairperson of the Communication Workers Union, Frans Ledwaba, said workers became concerned when they were suddenly told that mail and parcels from China were suspended.

Workers at the Johannesburg International Mail Centre (JIMC) in Boksburg were ordered to wear masks when handling the high volumes of mail and parcels from overseas and China.

“Last week employees were informed about the coronavirus whereby mail and parcels from and to China were suspended so employees wanted to know about the risk and measures of protecting themselves from the virus.”

“Sapo ordered the dust masks to be used for now while they are still checking if there is anything reported positive with the virus in SA.

“They only give employees dust masks but they are not sure whether they are safe from the virus and one mask should be used in a period of a week,” explained Ledwaba.

Ledwaba also accused the post office of not complying with occupational safety and health administration requirements, “as a whole”.

“There are employees who work overtime every weekend at JIMC without masks because they are from other offices around Gauteng not as employees of that place. If the parcel is coming from China it must reach a different office before it reaches the last destination of which is a client.”

Sapo communications specialist Emma Tshatsinde said along with other businesses that deal directly with goods originating from China, Sapo has been on high alert since the outbreak of the coronavirus, especially in relation to the welfare of employees.

“Some of the proactive measures we have put in place is to provide workers that come in contact with these goods with mask and gloves after being alerted to the virus. It is important to note that all mail from China is being disinfected from the point of posting as per Universal Postal Union circular dated January 28.”

Tshatsinde said information regarding mail piling up was false.

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