A man wears a protective mask, decorated with the Hulk cartoon character, as a precaution amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Santiago, Chile, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
A man wears a protective mask, decorated with the Hulk cartoon character, as a precaution amid the spread of the new coronavirus in Santiago, Chile, Friday, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Concern as criminals hide behind Covid-19 masks in the Western Cape

By Shanice Naidoo Time of article published Apr 25, 2020

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Cape Town - Masked thieves have added an evil new twist to the Covid-19 crisis by

robbing unsuspecting victims while hiding behind the masks meant to help protect people from contracting the disease.

The Western Cape has over 1400 confirmed infections with health workers not only battling the virus but also fighting off criminals. 

Two nurses were the latest target on their way home in Rocklands, Mitchells Plain. On April 15, a Doctors Without Borders staff member was robbed at gunpoint in Site C, Khayelitsha during community screening and testing.

JP Smith, mayco member for safety and security said the phenomenon was not unique to health workers as other essential services workers have also been targeted using the same modus

operandi.

“We have staff at some public transport interchanges and are working on expanding this. The department (health) would need to report these robberies. However, I will flag this with management,” said Smith.

The nurses were waiting on public transport when they noticed a maroon Golf make a * -turn and stop in front of them.

“The car approached while we were standing at the bus stop. There were four people in the car, three men and one female. They wore masks so we could not identify them. One of them was wearing sunglasses,” said the nurse, who asked to remain anonymous.

She said their nightmare began when one of the perpetrators pointed a gun at her friend and took his nursing bag.

“This is when the other guy stood by me with an axe, he also took my nursing bag and then began to scratch in my pockets. He took my cellphone and a taser,” she added.

Her sister told Weekend Argus: “She was so shaken up that she could not sleep and the family had tried to calm her down but it was not working. When she had to return to work she was in a state and extremely shaken up.”

The other victim refused to speak to the Weekend Argus out of fear.

Mark van der Heever, provincial health spokesman, said that was not the only incident where a front-line worker was robbed and held at gunpoint.

“At the recent media briefing, the head of department said the department is liaising with the Department of Transport to explore at ensuring safer transport arrangements for staff,” added Van der Heever.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Vish Naidoo, national spokesperson for the police said they had not picked up on such a trend where people are using masks specifically to commit crimes.

“With this said, in incidents of looting which we have experienced in some provinces, we have seen looters with and without masks,” added Naidoo.

Khaya Sodidi spokesperson for the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) said they were concerned about the safety of staff even before the lockdown.

“We have been raising safety issues of covering faces and health workers not being identified because of all of the different masks. We need them to be identifiable by hospital masks. With these reports we are concerned that the department is not offering transport for health officials,” said Sodidi.

Kevin Halama, spokesperson for the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa, echoed Denosa’s sentiments. 

“This is quite concerning that criminals are using this to rob health officials. Most of our health officials predominantly make use of public transport. It is not only the factor of them being robbed, but also their health as we are not sure if the various public transportations are being sanitised. We have also called on trauma counselling for our health workers at the various facilities.”

Halama said the robberies served to strengthen their calls to the minister to provide transportation to health workers.

Weekend Argus

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