Travellers at Pretoria hotel say they are being kept under quarantine against their will

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A group of South Africans in quarantine at the St. George’s Hotel, south of Pretoria, says they lost thousands of rands as they were misled by the Department of Health. They have accused authorities of keeping them under quarantine against their will. This after they were allegedly given an undertaking that if they pay for their own COVID-19 test and the results return negative, they would be allowed to leave before the 14-day normal quarantine lapses.

“For me it’s about seeing my dad for the last time. I don’t see how it can be fair if we have the approval, why can’t they release us. It’s just not fair to me,” that was Larissa Myburg’s plea when she came back to the country.

Her father died a few hours after she made the plea. She and her fiance, PJ Smit flew from Dubai when they heard her dad was on his death bed. They entered quarantine at the St. George’s Hotel, together with more than 150 other South Africans who flew from India and America.

They then paid for COVID-19 private tests to enable them to leave before two weeks ended, should they test negative.

Brandon Majozi was part of a group that flew from India on June 17. “Out of the 75 people who came from India there are only two people left. Everyone was released. We all have our release forms given to us, then this morning they want to back-track on the release forms,” he says.

Majozi together with Myburg and others were promised that they would leave on Wednesday, but police stopped them in their tracks.

“Yesterday afternoon they were reprimanded for allowing people to be released. The reason being is that they are getting people from the seventh day onwards that are testing negative and being released only to be found afterward to be positive. So a decision was taken, that is going to be scrapped and they will have to sit the entire 14 day period,” a policeman from the local police station explained the situation to them in a WhatApp recording made from inside the hotel.

In the video below, some of the residents at the hotel speak to SABC News:

National spokesperson for the Department of Health Popo Maja says releasing people from the hotel before their 14-day quarantine is over is wrong.

“The regulations say that a person who might have been exposed to the virus should be quarantined for 14 days. Whether that person tests negative before the end of 14 days it would not have an influence on whether the person should complete the 14 day period or not. So we need to adhere to the 14 day period,  nothing of our regulations have changed.”

He says they will investigate the matter and the people will be tracked and must return to quarantine.

Meanwhile, the 150 people stuck at the hotel want to know who will reimburse the costs for the COVID-19 tests, the flights, transport and hotel bookings they paid for when they believed they would be released. Some are further worried about getting the virus while staying longer at the hotel with new groups coming in every week.

Court action looms over forced quarantine

Meanwhile, former SABC journalist and Lesedi FM sports producer, Paul Nthoba, is hopping mad over forced quarantine.

Nthoba says he has been forced into a quarantine facility on his return from Lesotho on Wednesday and wants to self-isolate at home.

He is threatening to take the matter to court.

Nthoba fled to Lesotho on May 15 after he was allegedly assaulted by police while working on a COVID-19 related story in Ficksburg for an online publication. He says on arrival in Lesotho, he was assisted by the United Nations office and a local NGO. On his return to SA, together with other citizens, they were forced to go to a state facility to be quarantined for 14 days.

Nthoba says he doesn’t understand why he was forced into quarantine after he was placed under quarantine for 25 days in Lesotho. He is of the view that the High Court in Pretoria’s judgment which ordered that South Africans, who test positive for COVID-19, cannot be forced into quarantine at a state facility if they can self-isolate at home, sets a good example.

“But when we came back yesterday at the border post we were put into cars and forced to go into quarantine. As far as I know, the High Court in Pretoria took a decision that no one could be forced into quarantine if he can be able to self-quarantine and when I asked the health representative why is this happening, he said he does not have the answers. This is tantamount to kidnapping.”

Nthoba’s legal representative Advocate Lerata Mashee says they’ll challenge the forced quarantine of his client in court.

“The instruction received is that you will remember that Mr Nthoba has been repatriated from Lesotho. And the challenge that we are facing here is that in terms of investigations is that he is informed the authorities that he is capable of self-quarantining at his residential place. But he was forcefully removed from Lesotho to another state quarantine facility which is even far from where his residential place is.”

The provincial health department says it will investigate the matter, including what happened at the Maseru Border post and will comment after a thorough probe.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD) guidelines, where quarantine is not mandatory – people can self-isolate at home – if they meet the criteria. – Additional reporting by Ishmael Modiba