Health Department cannot confirm chickenpox outbreak at Methodist refugees

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The Western Cape Health Department says it cannot yet confirm an outbreak of chickenpox at the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town, where more than 800 foreign nationals are being accommodated.

They have been living inside the church since October after being removed from outside the office of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Green Market Square.

On Thursday, a group of foreign nationals refused health officials from the provincial health department and the City of Cape Town entry into the church.

The officials were trying to gain entry to follow up on reports of a chickenpox outbreak at the Central Methodist church.

The department’s spokesperson Marika Champion says they have health concerns especially for children inside the church.

“The Western Cape government health department was called by concerned people, alerting us of the possibility of some children falling ill inside the church. Health officials went to the church for routine oversight for any health risk. They are still in the process of checking.”

According to authorities, the group led by one of the refugee faction leaders – Jean-Pierre Balous, is refusing them entry into the building.

Health officials say Balous’ followers are demanding his release after he was arrested on Wednesday. He faces eight counts of assault and is due to appear in court on Friday.

Two factions were formed last week when some of the refugees accused him of abuse of power. A group, now led by Papi Sakumi, says Balous is untrustworthy, instigates violence and has refused aid on their behalf when they most needed it. The conflict, which took place on Monday, ended up in blows leading to Balous’ arrest.

More than 800 refugees have been living inside the church since being removed, from outside the office of the  United Nations (UN) High Commission for Refugees in Green Market Square in October.

A meeting is expected to be held on Monday to try and find them alternative accommodation.

Police are monitoring the situation.