BARELY a week after South Africa’s health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize assured his nation that they need not to worry about the highly virulent Indian variant, the triple mutant specie has been detected in at least four people in South Africa.
By Michael Gwarisa
The South African Department of Health confirmed that the variant dominant in India had been detected in South Africa yesterday while a further 11 people also tested positive for the variant first detected in the UK.
The four people who tested positive have a history of recent arrival from India. Two of those who tested positive for the Indian variant are from Gauteng while the other two are in Kwazulu-Natal. According to the health department, all the cases have been isolated and managed according to the national COVID-19 case management guidelines and contact tracing is also being conducted.
In 2020 when the first COVID-19 cases were reported in South Africa, it started merely as a few cases of not more than Seven people who had returned from holidays abroad, only for it to spread through all the country’s provinces like a veld fire within a very short space of time.
For neighboring Zimbabwe whose epidemic curve was on the verge of flattening, news of a highly contagious and virulent strain being reported in South Africa should be cause for great concern. Even though Zimbabwe has been applauded for exceptional COVID-19 management, she should not let her guard down especially in the face of a ravenous COVID-19 strain a few kilometers always.
In January 2021 at the height of the second COVOID-19 wave in Zimbabwe, information publicity and broadcasting services minister, Senator Monica Mutsvangwa announced that at least 60-70% of cases being reported in Zimbabwe were due to a highly contagious South African variant. Owing to the proximity and the constant interaction through trade and travel between the two countries, chances of the Indian strain finding its way into Zimbabwe through South Africa are very high.
Judging by how the variant has ravaged India and also drawing similarities between health problems obtaining in Zimbabwe and the situation in India, it can only be wise for Zimbabwe to up their COVID-19 surveillance systems and testing capacities especially at entry points. Already there have been reports of nationals from South Africa coming into Zimbabwe to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Who knows maybe in the coming weeks, numbers of people who will be coming into the country to get jabbed could swell?
To prepare in advance for the inevitable, here is a list of areas Zimbabwe might need to look into so as not be caught off guard in the event of an Indian variant being reported In the country.
Scale Up COVID-19 Testing At Vaccination Centres:
When I got vaccinated, everyone including the Vice President of Zimbabwe, Dr Constantino Chiwenga went through a COVID-19 testing and screening procedure at Wilkins Hospital. As cumbersome and arduous as it may appear, this could be the most ideal process to follow. Unfortunately, of late, all centres offering COVID-19 vaccination including private players are no longer carrying out testing. This process however is a bit costly and needs resources to be allocated at all vaccination centres.
Beef Up Oxygen Supply and Availability
Shortages of Oxygen have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths in India within a very short space of time. There have been disturbing pictures of people fighting for Oxygen Cylinders in India and those of people dying and gasping for air in most health institutions in that country. We wouldn’t want that to happen here given our already broken-down health systems. In the event that the Indian variant comes this side, chances of beating it under the prevailing health conditions could be very slim. Hence, we need to prepare in advance for the worst.
Avail PPE To Health Care Workers
During the first three months of the year 2021, Zimbabwe lost a sizable number of dedicated healthcare workers to the COVID-19. Health workers in Zimbabwe have been having recuring instances whereby they would down tools as a form of expressing their displeasure at the sad state of affairs as well as the absence of Personel Protective Equipment (PPE). In the presence of a deadly COVID-19 strain such as the one dominant in India at moment, we need all hands on deck and we cant afford a PPE induced industrial action at such a critical time. Government neds to look closely at this issue and ensure workers get adequate PPE way before we report this strain on our shores.
Enforce COVID-19 Restrictions
Zimbabwe has been celebrated as an early mover with regards to implementing COVID-19 prevention measures. Because of this, the country appears to have been spared the full wrath of the COVID-19 as was anticipated at the initial stages of the pandemic. Now that another super strain is threatening the global health system, it can only be wise for Zimbabwe to treat this Indian strain with the same urgency and priority they gave the first wave of the COVID-19 in March 2020. Even though government would announce restrictive measures to curtail the spread of the virus, people would flout the regulations at will without facing any repercussions. Enforcement of measures means you follow-up and see if people are indeed adhering to the set protocols. Even though restrictions have since been eased, remaining measures such as the wearing face masks and physical distancing should continue to be observed at all cost and government should ensure these are adhered to.
Raise Awareness On The New Strain and Impending Third Wave
Information regarding COVID–19 and the new variants being reported elsewhere in the world should be at people’s disposal all the time. People need to be concertised around the variant and how virulent and contagious it is so that they take things seriously and observe set prevention measures. Zimbabwe needs to avoid a third wave at all cost considering how the previous waves have impacted negatively on the country’s social economic fabric.
Scale Up Vaccination
Human behaviour can only be controlled to a certain extent. In as much as lockdowns, washing of hands, wearing of face masks and physical distancing are noble initiative to curb the spread of the COVID-19, human beings are prone to getting fatigued along the way and one way or another, they may end up unintentionally flouting the measures. This leaves us with one long term option against the virus, “Vaccination.” Even though getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is not the magic bullet against prevention, it gives us as a nation a fighting chance owing to long term immunity it renders to those who would have been fully vaccinated. The more people we vaccinate, the more chances we stand of defeating even highly virulent strains such as the Indian variant. Despite India being one of the world’s leading vaccines manufactures, it is still lagging behind in terms of vaccinating its population. Zimbabwe needs to scale up vaccination and ensure our daily numbers increase .That way, we stand a chance of vaccinating 60% percent of the population and attaining herd immunity early.