Remain on guard: WHO …as Zim marks 100 days of lockdown

‘COVID-19 is not rocket science, it is a virus, it’s predictable…’
With complacency setting in in Zimbabwe, COVID-19 cases could spike if community engagement, messaging and a correct balancing act is not attained. As the country marks 100 days under lockdown, with relaxed measures allowing some sectors to resume duty, this should not be mistaken to mean the virus has receded. COVID-19 hasn’t. It is here for some time until a vaccine is found. Vaccines take time, it’s a process and not an event. Currently there is no cure.
By Catherine Murombedzi
Health Correspondent
Zimbabwe has not been heavily yoked by COVID-19 as neighboring South Africa resulting in people’s attitudes warming up, complacency setting in, with disregard of measures now noted. WHO warns the country not to throw caution to the wind.
Locals are now disregarding mask use and social distancing is being disregarded. To date Zimbabwe’s cumulative COVID-19 cases stand at 787 while a total 81 335 tests have been done. Recoveries stand at 201 whereas nine deaths have also been recorded to date. The country also has 577 active cases of COVID-19.
Charles Pinda of Mabvuku, in a football group said the virus scare is over.
Do you know of any one dying of coronavirus? Yakapera, masasi chete ekumhanyisa goods ravo. (It is no longer there, this is cheap talk to sell their commodities). Sadly, the majority in the group agreed with him.
COVID-19 is a virus, it is not wished away, one avoids acquiring it by observing the measures given. Frequent washing of hands, social distancing, sanitizing of hands and equipment, protective clothing for health care workers and disinfecting of gadgets, public used places including buses and isolating or hospitalising confirmed cases.
Virus pattern
“COVID-19 is not rocket science, it is a virus, it is predictable. Let’s not lose this opportunity, let’s remain cautious,” said the World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Alex Gasasira in a telephone interview this week. 
Dr Gasasira was commenting on how Zimbabwe has fared in containing the further spread of COVID-19 to date.
He applauded the country for having contained the spread of COVID-19 to manageable levels.
As of 7 July, 2020 a total of 80 734 tests have been conducted, 746 confirmed positive, 528 active cases, 197 recoveries and 9 deaths. Projected statistics had estimated numbers to reach 33 000 to have acquired the virus by now.
Zim/ SA comparison
At 100 days of lockdown South Africa had opened intercity travel, trains were back chiming, most businesses were back at work, informal sector back at work, restaurants had opened observing measures, public transport was back with taxis flouting the rules to 70% carrying capacity. Schools had reopened as well as churches. Today, some schools have closed after infections spiked among teachers and students.
Dr Gasasira sited South Africa which had over 205 720 cases and recorded more cases daily as a sad learning chapter.
“Zimbabwe is not different from South Africa, it closed it’s borders the same way SA did. The factors pertaining in South Africa are the same in Zimbabwe. It is everyone’s role to be responsible. It is not Government duty to protect you. You protect yourself, you protect your loved ones, it is everyone’s duty. 60% of COVID-19 of new infections in Africa are noted in SA… If measures are observed, you avoid the virus, if measures are flouted, you acquire the virus” he reiterated calling on citizens to remain on high alert.
On being quizzed if the country was testing enough numbers, Dr Gasasira said under the circumstances, the Government was doing well.
“Globally, many countries are struggling to carry out sufficient tests. Test kits are in demand, with supply not matching demand. With the economic challenges Zimbabwe faces, it is doing well, however, we urge the country not to rely much on donor funding, Zimbabwe can channel more to the health sector…on easing lockdown measures, it is difficult, the act of sustaining livelihoods is a tough balancing act, COVID-19 has not spared the economy,” he said.
“There was fear that COVID-19 cases could spike with winter, however, the cold weather has not been a factor,” said Dr Gasasira.
“Globally, we talk of best practices to learn from…Zimbabwe is doing its best under the economic environment.”
Dr Gasasira called on the media to craft correct messages for target groups.
“We rely on the media to craft correct messages. The media is crucial. As experts, we do not know it all. We engage communities, we listen to communities, my concern of late lies in people getting relaxed, complacency is setting in, my advise is: ‘let us remain alert’, the virus is still as vicious as when the lockdown was implemented,” said Dr Gasasira.
Dr Agnes Mahomva, the Chief COVID-19 co-ordinator in the President's office always urges the nation to remain on guard.
“We should remain alert, we should observe all measures so as not to acquire COVID-19 , we are not yet out of the woods, we should not get to cluster infections, so the individual cases require monitoring, I repeat, we are not yet out of the woods,” is Dr Agnes Mahomva’s clarion call.
Returning residents:
Most infections in Zimbabwe are reported from returning residents in quarantine facilities with the highest numbers of infections from South Africa. Local infections are also going up daily although there has not been any cluster report. The mild to severe cases have all been hospitalised with the rest able to self isolate at home monitored by health personnel. Every province has a centre or two ready, with private facilities satisfying the requirements given accent by the Ministry of Health and Child Care to be COVID-19 centres.
Zimbabwe has reached the 100 days landmark under lockdown. At 100, stock is taken to see where we came from, where we currently stand and our roadmap into the future.
It is with the intention to flatten the curve further that we count our losses, our gains reviewing our strategy. Zimbabwe looks back to March 30 when His Excellency, President ED Mnangagwa announced measures to contain the further spread of a new virus in the coronavirus family.
The novel virus started in China, Wuhan Province, sending alarm bells globally. As the case with any virus, the spread was imminent, in no time, Italy, France, the U.K. the USA were engulfed. Clear messages to avoid falling in the same trap were given by the affected countries.
Myths:
A myth spread over Africa, giving false immunity hope to blacks. The virus does not survive temperatures above 27°C, so we are safe — made Africa embrace a false sense of immunity. Abundant with near furnace heat waves, Africa assumed a false sense without looking at the pandemic holistically. Home remedies were were taken as cures. Madagascar claimed to have found a cure and disregarded guidelines. WHO maintained an open door policy to have remedies brought up for trials. Indeed some local medicines alleviated the symptoms, hence the need to scientifically test the efficacy.
Today, Antananarivo, is back to lockdown after an exponential rise in daily numbers, jumping to a record 216 cases on Saturday.
In March, first cases in Africa were mainly of people who had been abroad. The imported cases spiked evenly spreading across the continent. The WHO message remained consistent, dispelling the myths. “COVID-19 is a virus, it knows no boundaries, no colour nor creed… there is no cure…”
Everyone had to put hands on tbe deck. Like all pandemics emanating from a virus, COVID-19 was predictable.
WHO gave guidelines on minimising the spread of the virus.
Social distancing, frequent washing of hands, sanitising equipment and hands, use of protective personal equipment (PPE) for health personnel working in hospitals. The hospital became a frontline, a battle. Under war siruation, everyone is alert to avoid the enemy.
Learning curve
With COVID-19, everyday is a learning experience, science continues to learn. Expected date of the COVID-19 vaccine remains unknown, vaccines take time. Dr Gasasira pinned hope on science and experts working round the clock, however, he too did not know when a vaccine would be availed.
“As a journalist, you may have heard of Oxford University working in collaboration with Wits University on a vaccine. I do not know when the COVID-19 vaccine will be available,” said Dr Gasasira.
Vaccine
The Oxford University is running trials in collaboration with Wits University of South Africa.
The vaccine was developed at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Jenner Institute and is currently on trial in the UK, where over 4 000 participants are already enrolled into the clinical trial and enrolment of an additional 10 000 participants is planned. The clinical trials are running is the UK, Brazil and South Africa.
Why South Africa for vaccine trials?
South Africa is the epi centre of COVID-19 in Africa.
With 60% of the infections in Africa reported in SA, it therefore is suitable.
In fact, the HIV vaccine trials of HTVN1 also known as Uhambo which were stopped end of February 2020, took place in South Africa. The trials were stopped because the vaccine was found not to be effective in stopping HIV acquisition.
South Africa under siege
In South Africa at least 205 721 people have already been diagnosed with COVID-19 (as of 7 July) and more than 3 310 have died from COVID-19 since March, when the President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster and national lock-down. A total of 47 848 have recovered marking a 47,6% recovery rate.
With Zimbabwe’s proximity to South Africa and some returning residents escaping quarantine facilities and going home, Zimbabweans are urged to report any returning residents not cleared.
By observing the measures, we can flatten the curve and escape the worst case scenario.
“We are not yet out of the woods.”
“Do not throw caution to the wind.”
“Remain alert.”

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