HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Dis-Chem’s COVID-19 drive-through testing disaster

HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Dis-Chem’s COVID-19 drive-through testing disaster


It’s been nine days and Dis-Chem still has not issued our COVID-19 test results. The service is a disappointment, to put it lightly, and there’s nothing worse than a corporation – in my opinion – which profits on the back of a pandemic and who over-promises and under-delivers without any real sense of accountability.

We were considerately notified that both my wife and I had been exposed to COVID-19 after a meeting we attended on 18 June. We haven’t been going out much anyway, but the meeting was important and we took all precautions necessary and properly self-isolated for two weeks. But because we have a new baby, his grandparents and godparents would like to visit and offer some support. I don’t think it’s the done thing to admit this, but loneliness with a new child during a pandemic and no available community support is quite difficult and well, at times depressing – there I said it.

In order for my wife’s elderly parents and our best friend, who is his godmother and a diabetic, to be able to visit in a safe environment and at different times, of course, to keep the company as small as possible, we decided to do the responsible thing. Despite our two-week isolation, we made use of the Dis-Chem COVID-19 drive-through centre at Tokai’s Blue Route Mall to get tested. It seemed like a safer, more contained option, the Dis-Chem marketing was convincing and seemed trustworthy and we were promised our results in three to five days.

Three days came and went, so did four and then so did five. Dis-Chem and labs issue no results on weekends – it has been nine working days now. On day five, we followed up and called Dis-Chem, we were told that there would be a longer wait – seven days instead of five – because they recently changed labs. Day seven came and went.

We followed up again. This time, the clinic said there was a glitch in the messaging system so people were not receiving their results and that also, they could not get hold of the lab. But they supplied us with a number of a lab in Jo’burg because not all labs know how to process COVID-19 results and they basically told us to go ahead and call ourselves. Obviously this proved unsuccessful and annoying – I paid for a service, why should we have to do Dis-Chem’s job for them?

The next morning I called back and said that I had had no success with the lab and I asked why a Western Cape Dis-Chem was using a lab all the way in Jo’burg. And over and above that, not informing customers of this process because naturally it makes sense that you cannot promise results in three to five days if this is the case? I was then told that they are not using a lab in Gauteng, but one in Cape Town – a totally different lab in Claremont, and I was given a number to call. No response.

I then called back and asked to speak to the clinic manager to find out exactly what was going on. Panic and confusion had set in on our side and we were worried that they might have lost our samples. Why was the communication so confusing and well… weird?

All of this is happening while my wife and I present with symptoms. I have a cough and a bit of a breathing problem. Severe fatigue, I literally feel like there is concrete in my bones and a persistent headache, dizziness and confusion. My wife has a sore throat, headaches and fatigue as well. We are driving ourselves mad with the lack of information and in the meantime, drugging ourselves every day with cough mixture, paracetamol cocktails, vitamin C and immune boosters. Is this just a seasonal flu? Are we going crazy? Have we fallen into a despairing pit of paranoia?

I have never been this tired. What is going on? It took me half an hour the other day to get the spelling of odour right. I tried to think of a time I was ever this tired consistently, and came up with nothing. We get enough sleep – just in case you’re wondering if it’s the new baby, but sleep is no cure.

Later on Wednesday the clinic manager called back to say she could not find us on the system, but she would call head office and check with them as all results get sent there first. I am still waiting for my call back. In the meantime, the Dis-Chem COVID WhatsApp service messaged to say our results were pending. Again. What? Is this all a bad fever dream? Do you have us on the system or not? If we are on the system, why are we being told that we can’t be found? But at the same time receiving communication that our results are pending?

I spoke to a few people who seem to be having this problem with Dis-Chem. This process makes no sense to me. I honestly feel like I am being lied to and to top it all off, on my last call with the Dis-Chem nurse she said: “You really don’t sound well”.

Later that evening my wife was provided with the number from a trusty source for the lady who is basically running the show, I suppose. We were once again informed that a Western Cape branch of Dis-Chem is sending all their samples to a lab in JHB and they are taking a really long time to reach the facility, which is creating a back log in results – again, they don’t work on weekends. After that communication we received a call from an employee at the lab in JHB who confirmed that they were processing Tokai’s results and the samples took five days to get there.

This is not an issue of entitlement. But a complaint about the conflicting information, lack of accurate correspondence and what I can only define as taking advantage of the situation we all find ourselves in by a massive corporation. So many things don’t make sense. The lie about not all labs being able to process results. The lie about changing labs to one in JHB, without informing clients that this may slow down the process. The second lie about a Cape Town lab actually being used and then secondary confirmation that it is in fact a lab in JHB that’s being used.

This is not the first time during this pandemic that Dis-Chem has been accused of taking advantage of customers with price hikes and other capitalist hacks, but this situation steals the show, honestly.

The conclusion is simple here, if you can’t do what you say you can, then don’t do it – or alternatively, communicate accurate and honest information. Have some integrity, it’s the least service providers can offer during these times. Those tests were not cheap and there are people who simply cannot afford it, but are finding ways to sit in that drive-through queue and pay for them.

I still have an on-and-off fever, am delirious, dizzy and desperately tired all the time. I have an on-and-off cough and we continue to take an entire pharmacies worth of precautions, while Dis-Chem’s WhatsApp service lets us know our results are still pending. What is going on? Because if we’re negative, then maybe we’re taking all the wrong medication for whatever seasonal illness we do have, and if we’re positive, well then at least we can stop driving ourselves crazy with worry for our little family and make sure everyone around us stays away and stays safe.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.