/ 8 April 2020

Army calls for reserve volunteers

Sandf 1192 Dv
Covid patrol: Soldiers with a homeless person in Yeoville, Johannesburg. The military health services plan to reinforce, regroup and strengthen its medical capacity in the wake of Covid-19. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

In the first clear indication that the 21-day Covid-19 lockdown is likely to be extended, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has called up doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to boost its medical capacity until late June.

This week the South African Military Health Service issued a call to registered medical personnel to join the Reserve Force as volunteers until June 23 as part of the operation against Covid-19.

In the call to registered healthcare professionals, the military health services said the call-up was “already under way and envisaged to continue till June 23, 2020.”

At the same time, the military health service has started to identify and set up quarantine facilities in all nine provinces to provide for its own personnel who may become infected with the virus in the course of their duties.

In the call, the military health service said the recruitment was aimed at “reinforcing, regrouping and strengthening its medical capacity in the wake of the national disaster declared by the commander-in -chief”.

The personnel included doctors; professional, enrolled and auxiliary nurses; clinical associates and operational emergency-care practitioners. They were asked to contact the various directorates with their name, identity number and registration details and await deployment to their nearest military health unit once contacted by the Reserve Force headquarters.

In another indication that the lockdown may last longer than 21 days, Police Minister Bheki Cele said in a TV interview on Tuesday, while addressing a joint-operations centre in Mpumalanga, that “anything is possible” when it comes to the lockdown.

“The next few days are going to determine which direction we are taking. We would wish to go back to normal life as soon as we can, but we wish to go back there with people alive,” Cele said. “There is no need to rush there when people are sick and dying. [Safeguarding] human life is the primary task of all of us.”

A SANDF official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the programme to set up quarantine and treatment centres for military personnel was “well under way” in most provinces.

“The sites have been identified. We are now looking at staffing and resourcing them as we anticipate a spike in the number of cases as the pandemic progresses,” the official said. “There will be a need to quarantine personnel who are symptomatic or who have tested positive for the virus so that its spread can be contained.’’

SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said the number of medical personnel called up would be dictated by the extent and the length of the Covid-19.They would be remunerated in accordance with their Reserve Force rank and medical qualification. 

Dlamini confirmed that quarantine centres were being set up in all nine provinces  as part of the SANDF’s support for the mobilisation against the virus.This would ensure that  any infected SANDF members would not place an additional burden on public health facilities, allowing more beds to be kept free for the general public.He said all SANDF members would be issued with personal protective equipment and would undergo screening and self-isolation where necessary.