Operations at the Witspos Post Office’s mail sorting centre in Johannesburg are set to resume on Friday evening.
This following the hospitalisation of 18 employees who fell ill after coming into contact with a potentially hazardous substance.
The powdery substance was found in a parcel sent from Europe to South Africa.
“At approximately 7pm [on Thursday evening], a parcel originating from outside of South Africa containing a white powdery substance was reported in one of the sections of the Witspos mail processing centre,” SA Post Office communications manager Johan Kruger said in a statement.
“Mail processing operations at the Witspos mail centre were then suspended as a precautionary measure to safeguard the safety and welfare of all our employees,” he said.
The area was cordoned off on Friday morning while bio-management and environmental teams were deployed to assist with investigations.
Maybe it’s coronavirus because they say the package is not from South Africa.
An employee who asked to remain anonymous
Despite alerting employees to remain calm following the suspension of the operations, some feared the presence of the coronavirus.
“I heard that some of them were throwing up, coughing and scratching themselves. Maybe it’s coronavirus because they say the package is not from South Africa,” said an employee who requested to remain anonymous.
The rapidly spreading coronavirus has wreaked havoc across much of the world, but not a single case has been confirmed so far in southern Africa.
A woman wearing a face mask, walks towards the entrance at Witspos in Ormonde. Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press
The coronavirus, which was first reported of in the Chinese city of Wuhan, affects the human respiratory system.
The virus has to date infected more than 63 000 people in mainland China, with about 120 deaths reported.
Read: No coronavirus case reported in SA but we are ready – health minister
The Witspos centre was cleared off following investigations that determined that the substance was not harmful.
Kruger confirmed that the powder is used to make yoghurt.
All affected employees were discharged from Milpark Hospital after receiving treatment.
“The area is being cleaned and disinfected,” Gauteng police spokesperson Kay Makhubela told City Press.
The centre has cautioned customers to not post any illegal, hazardous or poisonous substances.