ZIMBABWE needs to strengthen and refocus on measures it adopted at the beginning of the Covid-19-induced lockdown in March if it is to avert a local transmission crisis, a senior government official has said.
This comes as the country recorded another Covid-19-related death and 73 new cases yesterday. The total number of coronavirus cases now stands at 698, including eight deaths.
The deceased is a 21-year-old female with no history of travel and had co-morbidities.
Of the 73 new cases, 55 were returnees from South Africa, three each from Botswana and Mozambique, two from the United States, one each from Australia and Zambia, and eight local transmissions.
In an interview with The Sunday Mail yesterday, Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care Dr John Mangwiro urged citizens to remain alert, continue practicing good hygiene and social distancing, as the country is set to experience a spike in local transmissions.
These have been on the rise lately, with the country recording 31 cases of local transmissions between June 18-19. The total number of Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 cases attributed to local transmissions is now 107, something that has seen authorities raising alarm.
According to Dr Agnes Mahomva, the Chief Coordinator of the National Response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as of Friday, 77 cases were directly linked to returnees while 22 were a result of community transmissions.
Experts attributed the rise in local transmissions to failure by many people to adhere to Level 2 lockdown measures and the increased mingling of locals and returnees over the past few weeks.
Issues of sanitation and hygiene, and the fact that the country is currently in the influenza season, have also been highlighted as worsening the situation.
Said Dr Mangwiro: “The upsurge is a sign that people are mixing up so we are saying let us stay at home where necessary and continue practicing hygiene, social distancing and correctly wearing face masks.
“For those that are coming from outside, they should adhere to quarantine measures and not mix with others before they are tested. This is a sign that we need to restrengthen and refocus on the measures that we had in the beginning.”
However, he was quick to say that presently there were no discussions of reverting back to strict lockdown measures.
“These issues need to be balanced, the economy and Covid-19, so we are saying at individual levels one must make it a priority to make sure they are protected and they protect their loved ones,” he said.
Zimbabwe is under Level 2 lockdown, where both formal and informal businesses have reopened. Restaurants have also been allowed to serve sit-in customers.
Epidemiologist, Dr Portia Manangazira also said the surge in transmission was expected due to water and sanitation infrastructure which is inadequate, as well as returnees.
“We were saved by the lockdown as this helped by keeping the number of transmissions low. However, we are noticing that water, sanitation and hygiene issues have become a major challenge and have contributed to the spike in local transmissions,” said Dr Manangazira.
“There is also the issue of returnees in quarantine centres. Some returnees are not adhering to regulations.
“Our treatment centres are also overwhelmed so all this can contribute to local transmissions. The rise in local transmission has also coincided with the influenza season. So we are expecting an increase — that is the reason why we need all hands to be on the deck.”
Dr Manangazira said people needed to look at how coronavirus cases jumped from the first 100 to 200, highlighting the demand for “tightening up”.
There were 58 new cases from June 28 to July 3.
Local transmissions rose above 100 on May 25, when 64 new cases were reported.
It took exactly a week for the cases to rise above 200 when the tally reached 204 on June 1. The next 100 cases, which took the case count to 314, were reached over an eight-day period to June 9.
It took another eight days for the cases to reach 401 on June 17.
When the cases were 567, 474 were imported, mainly from South Africa, Botswana and the UK, while 77 were local transmissions.
Dr Manangazira said Government recently carried out an assessment of high risk areas.
“With the help of WHO (World Health Organisation) we, for the past six to eight weeks, have been doing high risk assessments in areas of high respiratory and influenza like illnesses,” she said.
“Areas such as Matabeleland South were in the green, meaning they were low risk areas of influenza and respiratory illnesses. However, we have realised that they are hotspots for Covid-19 given the Beitbridge and Plumtree borders. So we will be on high alert in such areas.
“Another assessment being done by the Government on a number of households will also shed more light on transmission of the virus.”
Government will also conduct random sampling on 2 000 households in communities across the country.
Dr Mahomva, said the samples would be used to generalise the whole population.
“Just like most countries, we had challenges on testing and we could not test everyone in the country,” she said.
“So, sample testing will be used to generalise the positivity of coronavirus in Zimbabwe. It will be done in different communities in the country. We will use the sample to gauge how we have done as a country.”
Dr Mahomva said it was hoped that the sample would solve the conundrum of sporadic local transmission cases and give a clearer picture.
Zimbabwe recently allowed formal and informal sectors to operate, opening up places such as Mbare Musika, which normally has an influx of informal traders and their customers.
Relaxation of lockdown measures has also seen an increase of traffic into Central Business Districts (CBDs) in most towns and cities.
It is now 107 days since the country recorded its first coronavirus case on March 20. Overall by Friday Zimbabwe had done 75 485 tests – 43 373 RDT and 32 112 PCR.
Comparatively, in the Southern African region as at July 3, Zambia had recorded 1 632 cases with 30 deaths while South Africa had 168 061 cases and 2 844 deaths, and Mozambique had 918 cases and six deaths.
Namibia does not have any fatalities from the current 293 cases, while in Botswana one life has been lost from the 227 cases.
In Malawi, which eased lockdown measures to allow voting in the June 23 elections, the number of new Covid-19 cases has continued to increase with 417 new cases recorded since 22 June representing a 49 percent increase.