Home Affairs suspends some services as Covid-19 kills staff at alarming rate
Johannesburg - With the rapid death and infection of Department of Home Affairs staff, and the public refusing to adhere to safety protocols, certain changes are being made to public services offered.
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said on Wednesday that applications for smart ID cards, except for matric pupils, were temporarily suspended as well as applications for passports, except for people who fall in the categories permitted to travel in the amended Disaster Management Act Regulations.
Marriage services such as solemnisation and registration are also on hold, he said.
In addition, the registration of births must now be made at the health facilities where the children are born.
“At the beginning of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, certain home affairs services were suspended to reduce the number of people visiting the offices, because social distancing is difficult with large crowds. Also, we were required to ensure that only one third of the staff are allowed in our offices,” he said.
As lockdown levels were relaxed, services were incrementally reinstated until October 1, when almost all services were reinstated.
“Unfortunately, the impact of what we did had the effect of taking us back to pre-Covid-19 days where huge crowds gathered at our offices not observing any of the protocols, especially social distancing,” he said.
At the beginning of December, senior managers of the department visited offices in all nine provinces.
“It became clear that inside our offices, some form of protocols was adhered to, but outside it was a nightmare. Despite markings, people were simply ignoring them. We thought the situation would improve as people got used to health protocols, but it did not – it got worse even, with the new spread of the virus,” said the minister.
Statistics in home affairs from January 1 to date are “quite alarming”:
◆ Out of 412 offices, 266 had to close at some point since the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020 because of staff members testing positive. Some offices closed more than once. This led to a situation where out of the civic branch’s 5 734 employees, 4 502 staff were affected and could not come to work at some time or another.
◆ Between March and December 2020, a total of 532 staff tested Covid-19 positive, mostly from Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
◆ In the first eight days of January, already 116 staff had tested positive for Covid-19, mostly from KwaZuluNatal, Gauteng and Limpopo. Every time a staff member tests positive, the people they were in contact with go into self-isolation.
Another shift can only resume after the office has been disinfected and wherever possible, a mobile unit or a truck fitted with home affairs systems is deployed to those offices to improve service delivery.
In the first 10 days of this year, the department had lost seven employees.
“All this is happening when the issuing of death certificates increased exponentially in the month of December,” said the minister.
In comparison: In December 2018, the department registered 36 825 deaths; In December 2019, 38 620 deaths and in December 2020, 55 676 deaths.
On January 4 and 5, the first two working days of the year, the department registered 10 982 deaths.
“These trends and numbers are going upwards, suggesting there’s going to be an even greater demand for death certificates,” said Motsoaledi.
Of all the people who visit home affairs daily, 29% come to collect Smart ID cards; 16% come to apply for Smart ID cards; 11% come for the issuing of birth, marriage or death certificates; and 10% come to apply for Temporary Identity Certificates.
For collection of IDs, people should not go to home affairs unless specifically summoned by SMS.
The department has also decided to change some of the services provided.
It is being proposed that all births and deaths be registered at the health facilities where they occur. These are the 156 health facilities with Home Affairs office presence. A list of these hospitals is available on the website.
Mobile units will assist where offices are either closed or where there is a need for collection or death registration.
Home Affairs offices will continue opening Monday to Friday, from 8am to 3.30pm.
Operating hours have been extended to 7pm to accommodate people who need to register deaths and births up to February 15.
All 20 land borders which were open during Level 1 of the lockdown are closed. A list of these borders is available on the website and social media accounts.
◆ For details, visit www.dha. gov.za, Twitter and Facebook accounts on the following handle, @HomeAffairsSA.