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Durban Magistrate’s Court closes as magistrate ‘tests positive’ for Covid-19

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Durban Magistrate’s Court closes as magistrate ‘tests positive’ for Covid-19

While the Department of Justice has confirmed the building’s closure for deep-cleaning, it denied that a staff member at the courthouse had contracted the virus.

The Durban Magistrate’s Court will be shut for most of this week so that the 12-storey building can be sanitised, after reports emerged that a sitting magistrate had contracted Covid-19.

Chris Phiri, the department’s spokesperson, said: “We can confirm that the Durban court will be closed on Monday and Tuesday for decontamination.

“Members of the public will be informed about alternative venues for certain matters. This despite a suspected case of Covid-19 testing as negative.”

However, the Sunday Tribune has been informed by various sources that the magistrate in question, who was stationed at a “district court” in the building, “called in sick on Tuesday”, and it emerged on Friday that he had tested positive.

Staff at the building received a text message from management on the same day. They were asked not to report for duty on Monday and Tuesday due to the apparent Covid-19 case and the subsequent cleansing process that would be undertaken.

That was extended to Wednesday after a meeting on Saturday between the building’s management, department heads and representatives from the company that will undertake the decontamination process.

A well-placed source, who asked not to be named, said it was confirmed at yesterday’s meeting that the magistrate had tested positive for Covid-19, and said due to the size of the building, the closure was extended by a day.

The source said that names of the people who had direct contact with the magistrate were handed to the Department of Health.

The affected staff were asked not to return to work until they received their test results.

“Workwise, all the cases set down for the next three days will be adjourned. For those who were due to make first appearances, teams of magistrates, prosecutors and clerks of court will visit various police stations to handle matters.”

The source revealed that senior public prosecutors would screen case dockets today to determine who could be released on bail.

“Court will be reopened on Thursday. Spraying of the entire building (12 floors, court grilles, holding cells, etc) will be done over two days and staff will be screened as they return.

“The mood is tense; everyone is concerned. At the end of March, we heard of a legal aid attorney who tested positive, but now this is in-house.”

Shortly after the legal aid attorney tested positive, support staff at the building downed tools and only returned to their workstations once they were handed gloves and hand sanitiser.

Another staff member, who also requested anonymity, said: “We are all on tenterhooks – ever since we heard about the magistrate testing positive.

“While we accept that we are front-line workers, we are worried about our own status and going home to our family and children.”

Claude Naiker, a national manager at the Public Servants Association, said his union had reliably learnt that there was a Covid-19 case at the building, and about the subsequent developments. He cautioned the department to be upfront if it suspected that any staff had contracted the virus.

“This will be the most sensible thing to do, not only to protect staff but to also mitigate any future potential risks.

“The Department of Public Service and Administration has issued strict guidelines on how to deal with such cases, and court cases during the lockdown period.

“The building’s management must ensure that staff are provided with the necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) before entering the workplace. This must be adhered to strictly, to ensure the safety of our members is not compromised,” said Naiker.

-IOL

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