Helderberg Village far ahead of the rest
District Mail Article form 2 April 2020
Written by: Tasmin Cupido
Nearly three weeks before President Cyril Ramaphosa’s national lockdown announcement, a Somerset West retirement village had already implemented safety precautionary measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in its community.
With just under 800 dwellings and between 1 100 and 1 400 residents at any given time, the management team of Helderberg Village immediately recognised the need for a stringent plan to be applied, with the elderly especially being at risk to the coronavirus. Preparations for an effective plan began at the beginning of last month, which included a presentation to the board and recommendations to close down facilities such as the clubhouse, restaurant, golf course and so on. “I quickly realised that with a large elderly community, a process of adjustment and sensitisation was needed, for what lay ahead,” explained Vagn Nielsen, Helderberg Village CEO.
“This took the form of continual written and telephonic communications with residents, informing them of the situation and what plans were being implemented in the village to keep them safe. By the time government had issued its lockdown regulations, our residents were prepared for lockdown day.” The programme included restricting access to the village, installing hand sanitiser devices throughout the village, induction for sanitising procedures for all staff, introducing the sanitising of biometric readers at the entrance along with temperature screenings of all persons arriving at the gate.
“Any non-resident who presented with a high temperature, was denied access and sent off to their doctor. Any resident who presented with a high temperature or who had recently returned from travels outside South Africa, was requested to self-isolate for 14 days. During self-isolation, all village services to that dwelling, other than emergency services, were suspended,” Nielsen explained. “Our Rentals Department terminated all short-term rentals. Management, in consultation with the various sporting and social clubs in the village, then systematically closed down all nonessential village activities, meetings and facilities.”
Furthermore, before the national lockdown announcement, the village was registered as an essential service with the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission and only essential services and facilities, such as catering, healthcare, refuse removal, security, emergency maintenance teams and laundry services were kept operational.
“The next big step was to send all nonessential service staff home on paid special leave for the lockdown period. The last step before lockdown was to disable the village’s biometric system for everyone, except residents and essential and emergency staff. No contractors or delivery services have access to the village. In terms of government’s lockdown regulations, villagers may only leave to purchase groceries, medicines or visit their medical practitioners.” Nielsen said residents quickly adjusted and adhered to the measures, and were wholly prepared when the president announced the national lockdown. During the lockdown period the facility’s 84-bed healthcare facility is still operational, Nielsen declared, with security across the premises on high alert.
What’s more, the village’s proactive approach before the lockdown garnered interest from other residential estates across the country as they requested assistance and advice for their Covid-19 contingency planning. “We have been commended by residents, families, friends and the police for the safety measures that have been implemented,” he said. “This lockdown is new to all of us and an understanding and partnership between the residents and village management will make the lockdown a success and minimise the risks. If we all work together, we can beat this!”