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A courier truck that was carrying the Covid-19 specimens was hijacked in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape on Monday, 20 July, which led to the samples going missing.

The National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) has warned the robbers and the public not to touch the samples, saying they may be highly infectious.

NHLS manager in the province, Tabita Makula, said that people who come across the specimens "must urgently call our Port Elizabeth NHLS office on 041 395 6158".

Makula stated that apparently the pathology services institute was still busy counting the unknown amount of specimens that were contained in a number of 40 litre cooler boxes when stolen. "The cooler boxes had ice packs for the purposes of keeping the samples in cool temperatures. We can confirm that the truck was commissioned by us to collect samples in our facilities in the area."

The hijacking has caused a major backlog on the system. "Due to this hijacking, the truck could not proceed to collect [samples] from other clinics," Makula said.

Port Elizabeth police spokesperson, Colonel Priscila Naidu, confirmed that a case of hijacking and theft has been opened and is under investigation.

Naidu said: "It is alleged that at about 15:30, a courier company was at the clinic parking area in NU11 when the driver and the passenger were held at gunpoint. The unknown suspects demanded the keys of the vehicle and drove away. No shots [were] fired. The victims were also robbed of their personal belongings."

Naidu stated that the truck was later found abandoned 500 metres from the hijack scene at the back of Siqwane Street in NU11.

NHLS was shocked by the latest incident that happened less than a month after specimens were found by a jogger dumped on the N2 roadside outside East London on 29 June.

But, due to the outrage sparked by the stolen samples, that was indeed not the first incident.

The courier company involved in the earlier incident admitted that the 80 samples fell through the bakkie's open canvas cover. The company was later fired for negligence and risk to human life.

It was sacked on orders of health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize following public outrage.

In the latest incident Makula said "the driver of the truck was with a new employee whom he was training how to do the job and teaching him the routes".

"The robbers took the cellphones of the two drivers," said Makula.

According to Algoa FM News, the truck's battery and the spare wheel were also stolen.

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