Picture: MARK ANDREWS
Picture: MARK ANDREWS

The number of health-care workers lodging claims with the Compensation Fund after being infected with Covid-19 at their workplaces is increasing at an alarming rate.

The fund provides compensation to employees who are injured or contract diseases through the course of their employment. It is financed by levies paid by employers. Since October 18 2019, about R70m in benefits have been paid.

More than 1,000 health-care workers have been infected with the coronavirus in SA and the number seems to be increasing in tandem with the infections.

The Compensation Fund claims come as unions last week called on public hospitals breaching Covid-19 health and safety regulations to shut down, saying they had become breeding grounds for the spread of the pandemic. They berated government for not doing enough to ensure the hospitals complied with regulations to save health-care workers' lives.

In Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, SA’s second largest hospital, more than 150 health-care workers have tested positive for coronavirus. In April, St Augustine's Hospital in Durban was shut down after more than 60 people tested positive for coronavirus. Close to 50 of those testing positive were staff members.

Other public health-care facilities across the country have temporarily closed for deep cleaning after staff tested positive, underscoring the risk many front line workers face in their line of duty.

According to data released by the Compensation Fund on Tuesday, the largest number of claims against the Compensation Fund was lodged in KwaZulu-Natal with 76 registered claims. Of those, the fund accepted liability for 67 claims; two were rejected, while seven are awaiting adjudication.

The Western Cape, which has overtaken Gauteng as the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country, had the second-largest applicants with 75 claims. Of those, 41 were accepted while 34 are awaiting  adjudication, employment and labour department spokesperson Teboho Thejane said Tuesday.

The Gauteng province registered 30 claims, with 15 accepted, four rejected and 11 awaiting arbitration, while the Eastern Cape has lodged 28 claims of which 26 have been accepted, one rejected and another awaiting arbitration.

Limpopo registered two claims with the fund, with one accepted and the other repudiated, while Mpumalanga had only one case which has been accepted, said Thejane, adding that the majority of those affected are female workers who account for 89% of the claims.

On Tuesday, Thejane told Business Day the Compensation Fund has “enough resources” to compensate successful claimants and that the fund was already processing claims expeditiously to enable workers affected by Covid-19 to receive “immediate and appropriate healthcare”.

Compensation Fund commissioner Vuyo Mafata said when they accept a claim as a valid occupation injury or disease, it means accepting responsibility for the costs related to the claims, such as medical aid costs and disability costs.

Mafata said when a claim is pending adjudication it means it has been received but no decision has been made due to outstanding information or simply it has not been attended to yet.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) said it noted with “grave concern” the growing number of infected workers in private health-care institutions and that the problem could be bigger than initially thought.

Nehawu said it suspected “continued underreporting” of infections by private health-care facilities as their Covid-19 testing is done by private laboratories and not the National Health Laboratory Services used by public hospitals.

The union called for harsh sentences against wrongdoers, “even if it means withdrawal” of their operating licences. It has advised its members to not work when they feel that their lives are in danger, because they are going to work “to sell their labour power not their lives”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said they expected the number of confirmed cases and death to rise this week. As of Monday, SA now has 50,879 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 1,080 deaths.

“While these numbers are broadly in line with what the various models had projected, there is a big difference between looking at a graph on a piece of paper and seeing real people becoming infected, some getting ill and some dying,” said Ramaphosa.

“I would like to offer my condolences to all South Africans who have lost someone they love, and wish them strength, courage and hope in the days ahead.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za