R350m investment in Nasrec Covid-19 field hospital ‘a colossal waste of money’, Newsline

Johannesburg – The Gauteng provincial government has been accused of “colossal waste of money” for its R350million investment in the Joburg Covid-19 field hospital in Nasrec Expo Centre, outside Soweto, which equated to R500000 a patient.

The province has, however, defended the multimillion-rand project as being based on worst-case scenario models regarding infections of the deadly virus.

This was the explanation made on Thursday.

The province has been further accused of “probable corruption” as the Nasrec Expo Centre-based emergency hospital beds lie empty due to a significant reduction of infection rates.

The accusations of wasteful expenditure followed a presentation to the Gauteng Legislature this week, which said only 25 patients occupied the 500 beds on August 28, with a total of 700 admissions since June.

So far, 604 patients were admitted for quarantine and isolation, and 96 for intermediate care including oxygen.

This equates to R500000 spent on each patient from the R350m spent on the facility.

Jack Bloom, DA’s health spokesperson in the provincial legislature, asserted that the low number of admissions to the field hospital was caused by bad planning by the Gauteng government.

“This is a colossal waste of money caused by poor judgment and probable corruption as connected people benefited from large contracts,” Bloem said.

On Thursday, responding through his lawyer Mojalefa Motalane, suspended Gauteng Health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku said Bloom had 24 hours to retract his “unsubstantiated” statements, failing which he would take legal action against him.

Masuku’s lawyer said that, as far as his client was concerned, the field hospital estimated costs were VAT-excluded R770 a patient with an adjusted capacity of 503 beds.

Masuku said that, like most “responsible governments across the world”, the Gauteng government had also decided to plan for a worst-case scenario, which necessitated the construction of field hospitals.

“Had South Africa experienced a sharp curve in terms of infections, the country would be in a better position to mitigate the worst affects of the pandemic.

“It is our client’s firm belief that a cautious approach must be maintained because the country could still experience a second wave of infections.

“The narrative by the DA and Mr Bloom to project the Nasrec facility as accumulating ‘run-away costs’ stands against the naked fact that the facility has reduced bed capacity and the Gauteng province has long discontinued further construction of field hospitals; again as part of a smart risk adjustable Covid-19 response plan,” Masuku’s lawyer said.

“This false narrative of ‘run-away costs’ is deliberately created to tarnish the image and professional reputation of our client.”

Their views were echoed by Infrastructure Development Department’s spokesperson Bongiwe Gambu, who rejected the DA’s claims.

However, Bloom maintained on Thursday that he would not retract his statements, saying Masuku’s lawyers had not contacted him directly and he only heard of the legal threat when The Star sent him the statement.

Besides the Nasrec Expo Centre health facility, Gauteng had also prepared thousands of graves for Covid-19-related deaths at an undisclosed cost.

In July, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize had told Parliament that the long-feared Covid-19 pandemic surge had arrived in South Africa and warned that it would see Gauteng and the Eastern Cape run out of hospital beds to accommodate patients within four weeks.

The Star