Govt splashes millions on isolation opulence

Health authorities have spent N$165 million on isolating people in upmarket facilities such as the cushy Am Weinberg Estate, Safari Hotel, Hotel Thule, Protea Hotel, Heja Game Lodge and Swiss Chalets when prudence was needed most.

13 April 2021 | Health

JEMIMA BEUKES







WINDHOEK

Government has spent N$165 million to accommodate Covid-19 patients at guest houses and luxury hotels since the start of the deadly pandemic last year, official statistics provided by the health ministry have revealed.

Upmarket facilities in Windhoek such as Roof of Africa, Am Weinberg Estate, Safari Hotel, Hotel Thule, Protea Hotel, Heja Game Lodge, Swiss Chalets, Berg View Hotel and Okapuka Lodge - where room prices are out of reach for most Namibians - were some of the beneficiaries of the Covid-19 isolation expenditure.

Other facilities included the luxurious Village Executive Suites in Windhoek's Eros suburb, Hardap Dam Resort, Rock Lodge, Gross Barmen Resort and Zambezi Waterfront and Tourism Park.

According to the official quarantine facilities register seen by Namibian Sun, the ministry identified at least 117 facilities countrywide where individuals who were exposed to the disease could go for isolation.

Health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe, however, claims that Am Weinberg and Hotel Thule were listed as quarantine facilities, but were used by people paying for themselves.

“The cost of persons self-isolating is not factored in our expenditure costs,” he said.

As of Sunday, 45 537 people in Namibia had contracted Covid-19, while 570 people had died.

Of the total number of people who contracted the virus, 42 634 were quarantined at some point.

Nangombe did not say how many of those who were in quarantine were on government cost.

‘Could have saved millions’

Ministerial sources, however, indicated that the decision to choose upmarket facilities to be used as quarantine and isolation facilities was not well-thought through.

“Some officials felt that we could have used government facilities such as school hostels to host these people. This would have saved us millions that we could have used in other areas to fight Covid-19. Some of these suggestions were shot down by the superiors,” an official, who chose to remain anonymous, said.

A staff member at Hotel Thule confirmed that they have since been taken off the list of quarantine facilities and no longer offer these services.

Nangombe also confirmed that several people were quarantined at Safari Hotels and Swiss Chalets on government’s expense. Government settled that bill - where a room goes for anything between N$700 and N$1 500 per night per person.

The standard isolation period is 10 days, while the quarantine period is limited to seven, depending on the test results. Some people were forced to quarantine for more than two weeks.

Namibian Sun has also understood that while the ministry claims that people who lived in upmarket lodging facilities settled their own accommodation costs, there are indeed cases where government footed the bill.

“You had instances where private facilities were used to isolate or to quarantine people and the government paid, for example what we have with Safari Hotel where people quarantined there and the government paid,” the source said.

Too little, too late

In the earlier days of the pandemic, government also paid exorbitant fees for the isolation of healthcare workers at the luxurious The Village Executive Suites and other sought-after resorts around the city.

As a means to cut costs, government later extensively made use of Namibia Wildlife Resorts facilities, which is managed as a parastatal.

Other facilities included on the list included Klein Windhoek Guest House, Protea Thuringerhof, Bergview Hotel, Paragon Guest House and Rock Lodge.

When President Hage Geingob declared a state of emergency on 17 March 2020 as a measure to stop the spread of Covid-19, it took government just under three months to rack up a N$11.3 million on quarantine facilities, which include five-star lodges and meals.

At that time, about 1 602 people had been admitted into quarantine facilities at the cost of government.

This included a group of people who were initially placed in quarantine at Greiters Lodge and later moved to Okapuka Lodge, about 10 kilometres away.

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