'Sci-fi' teams called out to clean Cape Town buildings
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Cape Town - Like a scene from a sci-fi movie, they emerge from their offices wearing hazmat suits, surgical masks and hard hats.
These teams specialise in cleaning crime scenes, cleaning up hazardous chemicals spills, waste disposal and deep-cleaning buildings.
But these days they are mostly called out to help in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.
They are sent to decontaminate buildings where people have tested positive for Covid-19.
Places that have been shut down for sanitisation after employees tested positive include supermarkets, churches, pharmacies and warehouses. In the latest incident, a manufacturing site in Epping for pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline was ordered to close temporarily by the Department of Labour after some employees tested positive.
Late yesterday, the company was given the green light to open.
Sirshen Chetty at Cape Town-based Spilltech, a leading industrial cleaning company, said its teams had responded to about five requests for assistance per week over the past two weeks.
They had responded to calls from supermarkets, among others. “Our teams are fully equipped to deal with any sanitation needs. They first do a quick risk assessment before deciding on how to execute the operation,” said Chetty.
Other similar companies confirmed a surge in demand for their services. They would not identify their clients but said they included supermarkets, banks and pharmacies.
The provincial department of health said it had been in regular contact with five businesses where positive tests had been reported.
“Whenever cases are identified, the store is closed, and close contacts (people who had come into contact with a person who tested positive) are identified and quarantined,” said department spokesperson Mark van der Heever. “The store is cleaned and then reopened.”
Microbiologist Professor Eugene Cloete, vice-rector for research, innovation and postgraduate studies at the University of Stellenbosch, maintained that there was no need to sanitise an entire building after a confirmed Covid-19 case.
“I don’t understand why stores are shut down for days. All that is necessary is to sanitise the area of proximity to where the patient was,” Cloete said.
“At home, this would require sanitising the person’s clothes, bed and bedding with a solution of chlorine and water. There’s no need to fog the room with chemicals. The virus sits on surfaces.” He said it had become more important to clean surfaces regularly with soap and water or sanitser.
“What is encouraging in our country is that the mortality rate is at 1.7% and the new infection rate has come down substantially. We need to keep practising good hygiene,” said Cloete.
Van der Heever said the department did not require premises where people had tested positive to be closed for 48 hours before reopening, “as long as it is decontaminated and those infected and close contacts are in quarantine and not on shift”.
“When there are multiple cases on a shift, that whole shift is quarantined and a new shift is brought in,” he said. “Most businesses have people on different shifts who do not come into contact with each other.
“This makes it operationally feasible for a business to reopen with a new shift which has not been in contact with any cases,” he said.