How Zim Quarantine Centres Have Become Drivers Of COVID-19 Infections

CONSIDERING that Zimbabwe’s single most potent Covid19 threat has been from returnees, more effort should have been directed towards containment of the disease from those coming in. This includes a systemic process of testing and monitoring of those returning, and gradual reintegration into their communities.

By Munyaradzi Madziwa

The same measures being enforced amongst the general populace such as protective masks, sanitising and social distancing should apply to the returnees. Further than that returnees must be monitored daily for clinical signs and symptoms which might signal Covid-19 infection.

In my opinion, quarantine becomes useless if there’s a possibility of one being infected whilst awaiting discharge into the community.

My experience has shown a totally different, but scary reality. And it is most likely that Zimbabwe’s Covid 19 epidemic is most likely going to be driven by  her poorly managed Covid “Concentration” Centres.

I arrived in the country via Victoria Falls and was immediately placed into quarantine (I must state “voluntarily” as I could have easily skipped it).

Upon admission into the Centre at Mosia Tunya secondary school, I was immediately asked to take up space in one of the classrooms where there was space. Here people were sleeping on desks, and some on the floor, each with a single blanket. My questions on how I was to be housed with eleven people whose origin and status I was not aware of, and I also being of unknown status fell on deaf ears. In the end I decided to retire to my car. Where I spent the next four days sleeping.

Ministry of health only arrived at the centre the following day, mid-day, clad in heavy PPE, and sanitising each step of their way as they came to test the new arrivals. A crowed gathered behind me as I approached their desk to get my initial test, and these were people clamouring for tests, and results. Some had been in quarantine for 26 days, and these were from the classroom I had been asked to sleep in. Most had no face masks, and there was no sanitiser in sight. This was the last day I came in contact with MOHCC personnel.

Fast forward, I was transferred to Bulawayo a few days later. Inmates were placed in crowded buses for the 6 hour journey. Our hope was for better facilities in Bulawayo. Mind you the sleeping quarters (dusty classrooms), food (sadza and chunks), and ablution facilities at Mosi will encourage any self respecting individual to escape.

In as much as the reception and facilities were definitely better in Bulawayo, the risk of contracting COVID in captivity became more apparent. Here there is a mix of people from all sorts of places, with varying risk to covid.

The fact that our country is overly obsessed with securocratic issues was evident from day one as inmates had to undergo several security vetting processes with none from the Ministry of Health. Countless forms were filled for each of our security organs, Prisons, Intelligence, Police, and none from the Ministry of Health.  Not even once did the ministry of health come it to administer even the most basic of health checks, a temperature check.

Maybe this this treatment is necessitated by the reports circulating that most people coming back into the country are ex-convicts deported from our neighbouring countries. At the same time I should also highlight that even ex-convicts have a right to a dignified reception, and will add, not every returnee is a criminal.

Whilst in captivity I have noted the following;

  1. Our concentration centres are overly crowded and the sharing of facilities does not allow for social distancing. Inmates will queue for meals, and are required to sit-in, in a single crowded dining hall whilst taking the meal. (Remember one cannot eat with their mask on)
  2. Testing is erratic. (I was only tested the following day after being asked to sleep in the same room with established inmates, and since my arrival in Bulawayo I have neither been screened nor tested). Some new recruits report not being tested, and yet we are in the same facility. Escapees are recaptured and placed amongst us without testing or screening. How then do we ascertain source of infection if any of us eventually tests positive?
  3. Test results take too long to come, ie weeks as in the case of my Vic Falls cellmates. In the meantime new inmates are captured and added to the mix. How then do you ascertain that newly infected individuals are not released into community on invalid results?
  4. Social Welfare officers, police, and spend the day interacting with inmates with little or no PPE. These individuals at the end of the day retreat to their homes as new shifts come in, albeit with no testing or even screening. How do we ensure COVID doesn’t leave the camp into the community each day? Ever wondered why sporadic cases are now turning up in the communities? (forget about those that skip quarantine in the first place as my opinion is they are actually safer than those that are exposed to the camps)

Case in Point: Botswana has 35 confirmed Coronavirus cases amongst their population. We on the other hand are now confirming daily new cases from mixed Concentration camps, and attributing them to their place of origin. What is the mathematical probability of having Botswana exporting 10 cases to Zimbabwe, unless we are out rightly denying the authenticity of their reported cases!

Is the COVID19 response a national security issue or a public health issue? If it is health related, why is the Ministry of health conspicuously absent in these Concentration Camps?

If it’s not too late, and unless the powers that be make efforts to revise their handling of Covid19 “Concentration Camps” a disaster looms. I have deliberately labelled them such due to the fact that though providing temporary reprieve from COVID to the general masses, assuming that returnees pose our greatest threat, they pose a much greater danger to the inmates, and in my opinion will be the key driver to Zimbabwe’s Covid Epidemic. It is no coincidence that the country has started seeing a hike in positive cases mainly from these quarantine centres.

The sad part is that Covid does not discriminate, and it is the poor handling of us “ex-convicts and deportees” aka Covid Prisoners that will make the bourgeoisies in their high offices5 catch the illness.

About the writer: Munyaradzi Madziwa is an independent Humanitarian worker and he writes in his own capacity as a returnee who experienced Zimbabwe’s dose of  quarantine first hand

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