Over 7 000 members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) have tested positive for COVID-19, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Wednesday (July 15).

“COVID-19 has been costly when it comes to the SAPS. Up to this point, we have 7 021 that have tested positive but we are glad to say that 2 021 recoveries have been made,” said the Minster.

Responding to a question during the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster media briefing on Wednesday, Cele said over 4 000 police members are in isolation, 150 of which are in hospital.

“We have 53 fatalities up to this point,” he said at the briefing held at the Union Buildings.

Meanwhile, 685 cases have been opened against the police since South Africa’s lockdown, aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, came into effect in March. The cases were against police and metro police members.

To date, 227 of these have been investigated and finalised.

“The biggest number [in terms of cases relates to] assault and discharge of firearms in public,” said the Minister.

Wearing of facemasks mandatory

On the mandatory wearing of facemasks, the cluster encouraged all South Africans to adhere to this.

It said no person will be allowed to use, operate or perform any services on any form of public transport, enter or be in a building, place or premises, including government buildings used by the public to obtain goods and services or be in any public open space, if he or she is not wearing a cloth facemask.

In addition, drivers and operators of public transport and shopkeepers will be responsible for ensuring that anyone who boards their vehicle or who enters their premises is wearing a mask.

“If they fail to do so, they will be committing an offence and can be charged accordingly,” said Cele.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola emphasised this point.

“The charge would be the contravention of the Regulations in terms of Disaster Management Act. The fines are as per the guidelines of the various chief magistrates across the country, depending on the circumstances and merits of that matter.

“There could be instances where the magistrate chooses an imprisonment or the option of a fine, so it’s left to the magistrate to decide and choose which one is the appropriate sentence under the circumstances,” said Lamola.

Fighting crime

The cluster also expressed concern at criminal elements that have used the pandemic to increase attacks on the public.

“This state of affairs is not acceptable. The cluster commits to ensuring that all members of the community are protected against all forms of crimes. We urge everyone to be vigilant and to protect themselves,” said Cele.

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