By Tauhierah Salie
The City of Cape Town has called on the public to refrain from speculation surrounding the collapse of six presumably homeless people in Wetton on Monday, as investigations are underway.
On Monday, the group mysteriously ingested the same substance and collapsed. Emergency Rescue (ER24) reported to the scene and personnel rushed one woman and five men to different hospitals.
A source noted that there were initially 12 people who experienced symptoms such as difficulty breathing.
ER24 spokesperson Russel Meiring is quoted as saying that the patients had no known connections and that they were separately affected at least three locations along a two-road stretch.
Meanwhile, the City’s metro police officers patrolling Wetton Road were alerted to the incident and went to the area’s bus stop.
“They were receiving medical attention from paramedics on scene and one of them was experiencing convulsions,” said spokesman Wayne Dyason.
“While the paramedics were treating them, it was reported that another person was lying on the pavement in Walnut Road and another on St Joseph’s Road and Wetton Road.”
Western Cape police spokesperson lieutenant-colonel Andre Traut confirmed that no criminal case has been registered at this stage, but a police inquiry will be investigated.
The substance at the source of the ordeal remains a mystery.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Thursday, Mayco member for community services and health Zahid Badroodien said that four of the patients have been discharged and the other two remain in high care.
He added that there is a long investigation process ahead in terms of speaking to witnesses, assessing CCTV footage and awaiting the results of the forensic and toxicology reports.
“The City has already received two formal notifications on the matter. Our environmental practitioners have started to investigate and engage with our counterparts in provincial government, SAPS and the clinicians,” said Badroodien.
Badroodien noted that witnesses have began contributing to assist in clarifying what had transpired. He emphasised the importance of focusing on facts.
“There are a lot of people that are saying that this is alcohol or poison but the investigations (should be) allowed to take place smoothly. Once all that is completed, we will be in a much better position to say what was ingested.”
Having spoken to the clinician, Badroodien said that the laboratory is currently processing the groups blood to investigate any unknown substances within it. Environmental health staff are also trying to determine what was ingested and are looking into the circumstances that led to the ingestion of the substance.
“They have mentioned that it was something that was drunk. We are led to believe that it may potentially be a highly concentrated form of alcohol. but that doesn’t rule out the other unknown toxic substances that are currently being investigated.
According to Badroodien, the group were “street people’ known by the Social Development Departments Street People Unit and would often take food or drink from passersby.
“In this particular instance, its also located in an area where there are a number of clubs, bars and so on where they do seem to benefit from receiving alcohol from various places that frequent those facilities,” he explained.
He added that those who have been discharged have since made their way back to the area they frequent. City environmental health staff are in close contact with the medical facilities to ensure that if they are open to giving more information, the City will be available.
In relation to the situation the patients find themselves in, the mayco member explained that some may not be open to accepting assistance.
“Efforts will continue to be made to ensure that these and all individuals who find themselves on the street and are willing to accept our assistance are moved to shelters or our Safe Space.”
“My experience has shown that because the individuals who live in these economic hubs benefit so extensively from food, money and so on; there’s usually apprehension to our offers,” said Badroodien.
The environmental health team are expected to brief the surrounding businesses to ensure they engage with these vulnerable groups appropriately.
Anyone with information can contact Lansdowne police station on 021 700 9045 or Crime Stop on 08600 10111