A biohazard alert in South Africa’s Eastern Cape was sparked Tuesday after large samples believed to be COVID-19 testing went missing when a truck was hijacked, according to media reports Tuesday.

The incident took place Monday in Port Elizabeth, The Southern African website reported.

“Yesterday we received reports that a courier vehicle transporting COVID-19 specimens for the NHLS [National Health Laboratory Service] was hijacked in Port Elizabeth and criminals who did this took a white container with the specimens,” the website quoted Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane.

“We condemn this act of criminality, which puts the lives of people at risk,” he said.

The incident left authorities concerned about the biohazard danger to the Eastern Cape.

A backlog of tests will be conducted in the area, as the crime prevented potential coronavirus samples from being processed.

Police are searching for the suspects, according to the website.

The truck carrying two boxes of specimens was hijacked at gunpoint, the unknown missing number of COVID-19 samples were in 40-liter (11-gallon) cooler boxes. The suspects stole the truck’s battery and spare tire and the vehicle was dumped 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the crime scene, without the samples.

At least 15,418 people have died from the virus in Africa, while 391,898 patients have recovered, according to the latest figures.

Southern Africa is the hardest hit with 388,000 cases, of which 373,600 are in South Africa.

The global pandemic has claimed nearly 614,000 lives in 188 countries and regions since it has originated in Wuhan, China last December.

The US, Brazil, Russia and India are currently the worst-hit countries in the world.

Nearly 15 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, with recoveries exceeding 8.4 million, according to US-based Johns Hopkins University.

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