Daily Maverick

IEC is still using foggers at voting stations even though they have no role to play

- By Greg Nicolson and Victoria O’ Regan Are foggers for voting stations necessary?

Medical experts say there’s no role for disinfecta­nt foggers in Covid-19 control, but the Electoral Commission (IEC) is distributi­ng them to all voter registrati­on stations this weekend and it plans to order 126,280 more canisters for the upcoming elections.

The commission is distributi­ng the disinfecta­nt fogger sprays to each of the 23,151 voting stations that will open this weekend, despite health institutio­ns and medical experts stating that fogging is not recommende­d to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

In a briefing on 16 September ahead of the registrati­on weekend for the local government elections, Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo said each voting station had been provided with disposable face masks, cardboard bins, sanitiser wipes, hand sanitiser and disinfecta­nt fogger sprays, as well as social distance markers “for use as precaution­ary measures to obviate possible Covid-19 transmissi­ons”.

IEC spokespers­on Kate Bapela said the Electoral Commission had bought the fogger sprays and other protective products long in advance of the initially scheduled election date of 27 October.

At the time of writing, Bapela was unable to say how much the IEC had spent on foggers, which companies were involved, or what advice the IEC relied on in deciding to procure the foggers.

“By the time we went to the Constituti­onal Court to ask for a postponeme­nt to February, all of these things had already been bought. So we procured way in advance,” Bapela told DM168.

For more than a year now, leading health institutio­ns and medical profession­als have dismissed the use of foggers as an effective Covid-19 disinfecta­nt.

In a May 2020 situation report, the World Health Organizati­on said: “In indoor spaces, routine applicatio­n of disinfecta­nts to environmen­tal surfaces via spraying or fogging (also known as fumigation or misting) is not recommende­d.”

In June 2020, the Department of Health issued a statement saying: “The Department of Health does not endorse or require ‘deep cleaning’ that involves fumigation, demisting or fogging.”

Guidelines on returning to work from the Department of Basic Education, Department of Public Service and Administra­tion and National Health Laboratory Service all stated that fogging was not recommende­d to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Professor Francois Venter, divisional head of Ezintsha, a healthcare research group at Wits University, said: “There is no role whatsoever for fogger sprays. They are potentiall­y dangerous.”

Venter is a member of The Scientists’ Collective, which includes South Africa’s leading medical scientists and academics. In August 2020, they wrote: “There is NO role for ‘fogging’, ‘disinfecti­on tunnels’, spraying or ‘deep cleaning’ for Covid-19.”

Foggers have been described as ineffectiv­e in preventing the spread of Covid-19.

They are also seen as potentiall­y harmful, because people using them are exposed to the inhalation of disinfecta­nts.

Unnecessar­y decontamin­ation, deep-cleaning and fogging during the pandemic have also been linked to a number of questionab­le government contracts.

Electoral Commission Vice-Chairperso­n Janet Love told that the health advice on fogging was unclear when the IEC signed contracts with its more than 20,000 voting sites. She said many venues, which include private and publicly owned properties, particular­ly schools, asked that their sites be decontamin­ated or “defogged” during the elections.

After a Maverick Citizen investigat­ion, the Special Investigat­ing Unit (SIU) probed R431-million spent by the Gauteng Department of Education on decontamin­ation and fogging during the pandemic, leading to the freezing of more than R60-million at 20 companies.

Love noted that there was now “more consensus” over the use of foggers to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and said the IEC would ask the Department of Health to provide clarity on the issue.

But the IEC is still sending foggers to voting stations this weekend, and has plans to buy more.

Both IEC spokespers­on Bapela and Love noted that the Electoral Commission had procured the foggers and other election gear far in advance of the registrati­on weekend and the election date.

But the IEC has advertised a tender to buy an additional 126,280 400ml canisters of disinfecta­nt fogging spray “for effective disinfecti­on at voting stations” to be delivered no later than 20 October. Bids close on 1 October.

The IEC is under significan­t pressure to prepare to host open, free, fair and safe elections during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially since its applicatio­n to postpone the vote to February 2022 was denied by the Constituti­onal Court.

Love said that, although the IEC would approach the Department of Health regarding the use of foggers, it still planned to procure more than 120,000 canisters to distribute to voting stations for the 1 November vote.

“The reality is we have a process that’s on the move,” said Love.

She said the Commission was contractua­lly obliged to distribute foggers to voting stations and could not “pull the plug” on voting sites and did not have the time to renegotiat­e contracts one by one.

 ??  ?? Sources: Adobe Stock, Rawpixel, nicepng
Sources: Adobe Stock, Rawpixel, nicepng

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