By Lulamile Feni and Ray Hartle
The first Covid-19 death in the OR Tambo district has been reported, bringing to four the number of deaths as a result of the virus in the Eastern Cape.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed the four deaths in an announcement on Thursday night.
DispatchLIVE has confirmed the latest death to be that of a man who was married to a senior member of a mainstream church from New Payne Farm village near Mthatha.
On Thursday, DispatchLIVE reported a person had died at East London’s Frere hospital, while Mkhize’s statement also confirmed two earlier deaths in Nelson Mandela Bay.
In total, the Eastern Cape has 220 Covid-19 infections, with the highest number  recorded in Buffalo City Metro, and the West Bank prison cluster contributing 72 of that total.
BCM mayor Xola Pakati said he was concerned about the growing Covid-19 numbers in the municipality and especially the impact of the prison cluster infection.
“We are very worried about what is happening in the correctional centre in particular, but the department of correctional services does have the necessary capacity to do the quarantine and the self-quarantine of both the inmates and the officers there,” Pakati said.
At New Payne Farm about 10km from Mthatha, health officials in a convoy of vehicles proceeded on a door-to-door campaign to catch early those who might have come into contact with the dead man. .
His death was confirmed by health department spokesperson Judy Ngoloyi.
The man’s wife is a senior leader of one of the biggest and oldest churches in Mthatha.
Payne traditional and church leader Bishop Dalubuhle Plaatjie said the man had been one of his trusted committee members.
The Dispatch was unable to establish where or how the man contracted the virus.
“’The family and all of us did not know that he had coronavirus. He died on Monday at home after he was on that day taken to a doctor’s surgery in Mthatha,” Plaatjie said.
“We only knew on Wednesday that he had coronavirus and all of us are shocked. If the family knew early they could have treated the case better.”
Since his death, many church leaders and members have been visiting the family home and holding prayer services.
Villagers welcomed the provincial government’s effort to send people to test the community, but some were not aware their neighbour had died from the virus.
One said many church members had been in physical contact with the family as the wife was their church leader.
“It is true. I had been in and out when he was sick and when he died. But we all did not know until I was phoned by his wife saying that they have learnt from nurses that her husband has died of coronavirus,” the person said.
Provincial health MEC Sindiswa Gomba on Friday detailed the spread of viral infections across the province, showing a vast gap between infections in two of the major metros and the rest of the province.
Behind BCM, the Nelson Mandela metro centred on Port Elizabeth has reported 84 infections. NMB also recorded the highest jump in new cases  on April 16.
The Chris Hani district, with its seat at Komani, has 21 infection cases, Sarah Baartman district 11, OR Tambo district nine and Amathole district four. Joe Gqabi district municipality centred on Barkly East and Alfred Nzo district around Mount Ayliff have not yet reported any infections.
A total of 142,326 people have been screened in the province since the mass testing campaign started, while 3,413 tests were conducted by April 15, translating into a rate of infection against the 3,413 total tests done in the province of 6,4%.
“These statistics show that 6,4% of the tests were positive for Covid-19. The increase in the number and positivity rate is due to an increase in our efforts to identify all individuals exposed to Covid-19 virus,” Gomba said.
The MEC said the province had a total of 2,000 hospitals beds for isolating Covid-19 patients, which included 240 ICU beds.
“In terms of protocols, we only isolate people who are sickly, and who justify to us that they would not afford a space in their homes to isolate,” she said, adding the department of public works must ensure there is enough space for people outside hospitals.
Gomba expressed deep concern about the contribution of funeral gatherings to the increase in overall infections in the province.
“We have scientific evidence that funeral gatherings are a major contributory factor in the increase of positive cases in our province.
“We call on bereaved families and communities to stop organising funerals with large numbers of people exceeding the stipulated number of 50 mourners,” she said.
She also railed against the “disturbing disregard” for lockdown measures by rural youth, with police and army units having to stop soccer matches in the OR Tambo district.
“This is reckless and puts not only those playing soccer in danger, but their families and their communities at large. If people break the regulations, they must be dealt with decisively because people’s lives are at risk here.”
Gomba said the provincial government’s preferred position was to allow individuals and families to self-quarantine but she warned this would be reviewed because “some people are not as disciplined when it comes to this choice”.