As a result of backlogs in COVID-19 testing for travelers crossing national borders, at least 15 people have reportedly died on the South African border with Zimbabwe as holiday traffic surged at the Beitbridge border port.
Travel between South Africa and Zimbabwe is busier than usual at this time of year due to a seasonal return of migrants to Zimbabwe, Reuters reported. South Africa is home to around 1.5 million Zimbabwean migrants according to a United Nations estimate.
Sandile Buthelezi, the director-general of South Africa’s Health Department, announced Friday that COVID-19 screenings had been suspended after the deaths were reported, according to South African media outlet eNCA. He cited public safety and noted that proof of a negative COVID-19 test would be required within 30 days of re-entry.
The Health Department has suspended screening at the Beitbridge border post to allow traffic to flow. It comes after the deaths of at least 15 people waiting to cross into Zimbabwe. The department says it has to ensure the safety of all South Africans. #eNCA pic.twitter.com/397TotEakU
— eNCA (@eNCA) December 25, 2020
Videos shown on local news outlets and circulated on social media show long lines of cars and trucks on the road leading to the Beitbridge port, the main border crossing between the two countries.
A Zimbabwean woman reportedly died Tuesday after collapsing near the border in the city of Limpopo, according to eNCA. She reportedly experienced fatigue and dizziness and asked fellow passengers to pray for her before she died. Other Zimbabwean migrants have reportedly complained about a lack of food and water.
Some lawmakers in South Africa have called for government intervention to prevent more deaths but authorities say clearing the congested border port could take weeks, according to eNCA. (RELATED: Speakeasies Popping Up In South Africa After Alcohol Ban)
Health officials say South Africa is currently experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 infections, according to Reuters. Officials believe surging infections are partly due to a mutation in the virus identified by South African researchers earlier this month.
The country has around 968,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 26,000 deaths according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.