Open letter to the Minister of Health From Quarantine

AFTER spending 22 days in captivity we were told that we cannot leave quarantine after testing. The standard published by the government is a maximum of 21, but I am sitting at 25 with cellmates having up to 30 and even more. The reason behind our continued detention being: of the over 100 tests conducted 4 days ago, one inmate has tested positive. We are thus supposed to stay on for another 8 days after which we shall be tested again.

The rationale, according to the ministry of health which only started showing a presence at the centre in my day 18, is that quarantine standards have been flouted, and we could all be contaminated. Their main bone of contention is the dining room where we have been mingling indiscriminately, as well as the fact that cohorts have been mixed in halls of residence. Henceforth each hostel will be taken as a separate cohort, and graduation into the community shall be determined by the final test results, after a further 8 days.

Here are the questions I posed to ministry of Health on the ground and did not get an answer. I will pose them again and hope someone with decision making stamina will objectively look at them:

  1. Not all 230 quarantinees were tested 4 days ago, it was only the cohort above 14 days in quarantine, just about half of the whole centre. The positive case was discovered from this cohort. This leaves room for other undiscovered cases among us. If the ministry is going to wait another 8 days to test, what is the risk to the whole cohort? What does it mean to prisoners of someone tests positive again? Are we going to be detained for another 8 days? Does this mean quarantine in Zimbabwe is in perpetuity?
  2. The same risk factors remain. Same dining space, Limited handwashing facilities (Water is only available at the centre once or twice a week. The rest of the time people share 2 or three borehole fed taps, drinking, bathing water, plate washing, and handwashing. Shared amongst 230 inmates and other support staff) There still are no hand sanitising stations. Besides taking turns to the dining hall, and now being allowed to take food to the hostels, how are the other risk factors being addressed?
  3. How much value is being placed on us as citizens? We have done our part and quarantined as per requirement. Is there no one else accountable to make this process work wholesome in preventing a COVID-19 epidemic?
  4. So after being absent from the quarantine centres, the MOHCC officials turn up on day 22 and start noting anomalies on quarantine standards. What was their mandate in the first place? For how long are inmates going to be subjected to punitive decisions over implementation gaps by the very same officials (gaps some of us highlighted from day one only to be ignored. I must state the write up done after all desperate measures to communicate were ignored)
  5. Finally this is the bombshell, so amongst us, in the same centre, sharing the same “condemned” dining facilities, and queueing for food with us are service personel. These are the police, army officers, and poly staff. If we have been contaminated as per the reason for our continued detention after being tested 6 days ago, these are equally contaminated too. Why do I mention this grouping? They have unlimited access to us, and each day they return home to their families (thus unlimited community access).

What are the implications of this whole scenario? Covid-19 is an epidemic of global proportions, and the implications for poor management are there for the whole world to see. Strong economies, with much stronger healthcare systems than ours are shuddering, and the death rates are alarming (currently sitting at 5.5% mortality worldwide, with the majority coming from economic giants). With the way countries have seen exponential growth in cases (South Africa is a close example) my question becomes; why are well known guidelines being flouted left right and centre?

  • If returnees are the biggest threat we have for an epidemic, then why are quarantine centres not being prioritised? Why are guidelines not being followed so as to reduce spread (amongst us) which could easily leak into the community and drive the epidemic?
  • There has been a huge number of returnees testing positive to coronavirus at the end of their stay in quarantine, after initially testing negative on admission. What effort is being placed to determine source of infection, and possibly safeguard those in quarantine? (As an inmate myself I have been complaining of various risk factors which are being ignored. One being the indiscriminate mixing of cohorts)
  • If quarantine centres are left to become mass infection and incubation centres as they are right now, a disaster of immense proportions looms. Inmates will grow the infection, service workers will help in spreading.
  • Continued detention of Quarantinees beyond the gazetted 21 days results in frustration. This, coupled with familiarisation between inmates and service workers within the camps results in social distancing measures being flouted, and continued spread
In the meantime, if we are to restart our quarantine, may it be in line with prevention standards that I believe the MOHCC is aware of;
  1. If all prisoners are back to day ONE, there should be mandatory baseline testing for everyone in the centre so that isolation can be done immediately, and only people with the same status are quarantined in the same facilities. Failure to test everyone upon this quarantine restart implies continued unmitigated risk which shall come back to haunt us on day 8. And we should not pretend to be surprised.
  2. All risk factors should be mitigated in line with the prevention and quarantine guidelines which I’m sure the whole COVID taskforce is in possession of. May there be availed hand washing stations at all times, as well as sanitising stations. There should be no mixing of cohorts.
  3. Plans should be set in motion on the next step if anyone tests positive again after 8 days. Continued detention not only violates civil liberties but also means resource overburdening in an environment where the socioeconomic impact of the COVID epidemic are only beginning to show
  4. I would also suggest that those that have tested negative after serving their mandatory days be allowed to go to their homes and be followed up on after 8 days to check if they have seroconverted.

How long are we going to keep quarantinees as lab rats? Why are clearly articulated health guidelines not being followed? Are we part ongoing experiment?

Just a few hours ago, new returnees were added to our hostel straight from the borders. This further distorts the already unclear cohorts which had been established over the past few weeks. Any one of these new returnees added to us could potentially contaminate us, or if already we are contaminated we risk contaminating them.

We may not matter, but poor management and care for us, may become the driver to this epidemic. From then on, no one will be safe, not even YOU!

It seems our approach to the COVID-19 epidemic is more reactionary as opposed to a well-planned and coordinated response. If so how are we going to address all the potential oncoming shocks that may confront us as the threat progresses?

Signed Off

COVID Prisoner

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