Dozens of locals line up eagerly as the train heaves to a halt at a station in a remote rural region of South Africa’s coastal Eastern Cape province.
The so-called Train of Hope has come to provide COVID-19 screening in one of South Africa’s virus hot spots from aboard a specially equipped mobile clinic. The Eastern Cape in mid-June 2020 accounted for 14% of South Africa’s COVID-19 infections nationwide. Since the first case was reported on March 5, Africa’s most industrialized country has recorded the continent’s highest number of cases.
The train previously operated as a general health services facility offering dentistry, eye checks and counseling services in more than 70 of South Africa’s rural communities. The state-funded train was repurposed as a locomotive of “hope” in South Africa’s fight against the virus.
The train, known in normal times as Phelophepa, which means “good, clean health” in the Sotho and Tswana languages, crisscrosses the country nine months of the year.
“We have shelved the Phelophepa services, and we are now solely dealing with the issue of the COVID-19,” train manager Bheki Mendlula said.
“I now suddenly realized that corona[virus] is real, and I think I should know my status, know if I am safe or not,” said Sinisipho Nxojelwa before getting tested.
She was worried that her aunt, a nurse who lives with her family, might bring the infection home from work.
Health authorities have mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers to travel in search of COVID-19 cases.