THERE was widespread panic and shock when President Emerson Mnangagwa and his deputy who is also the health and child care minister Dr Constantino Chiwenga announced that returning residents would be subjected to a mandatory 14 days quarantine at their own costs and mandatory PCR testing even after producing a negative PCR COVID.
By Michael Gwarisa
Government has since issued a Statutory Instrument (S.I) to that effect and the promulgations by the head of state and health minister are now law. The S.I is known as the S.I 267 of 2021 Public Health (covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment). Before we get into the gist of this story maybe it is imperative to look into the SI a bit and conclude if it is draconian and Hitlerian in nature. To start with, maybe let’s appreciate that such laws and requirements whereby returnees are mandated to quarantine and pay for their own quarantine stay or test at their own cost have been in place for a while in most European countries and currently, its even in place in the United Kingdom (UK) where returnees are required by law to self-quarantine upon landing on UK soil.
However, what is not clear for Zimbabwe is how government intends to enforce and monitor this process to ensure returnees comply and the virus does not spread beyond quarantine centres in the event that some test positive during their isolation. In terms of limitations or infringement of rights for citizens, Statutory Instruments of this magnitude are enforced in terms of declared national disaster and in terms of Zimbabwe’s Public Health Act, a minister can make a lot of regulations and declarations that cut a lot into human rights ordinarily enjoyed when there is no state of disaster declared and when it is business as usual.
Coming back to the issue of who may or may not self-quarantine at home, the government of Zimbabwe sort of made some changes yesterday Friday, 3 December 2021 when the Acting Secretary for Health, Dr Robert Mudyiradima indirectly announced adjustments to the S.I, bringing some form of relief to returning residents and those who recently went outside country on business or conferences.
According to a statement by Dr Mudyradima, “Returning residents who have been outside the country for more than 14 days and found to be PCR negative will be subjected to a 10 day quarantine at a public or private COVID-19 facility at their own cost, while those that have been outside the country for e period less than 14 days may be allowed to self-quarantine at their respective homes.”
He however added that home quarantine will only be granted prior to inspection and approval of the facilities. For returning residents who would been quarantined in institutions, they will be retested after five days. Who knows, maybe after testing negative they will be allowed to go home to their relatives and friends?
Dr Mudyiradima added that Diplomats, Very Important Persons (VIPs) and Very Very Important People (VVIPs) visiting the country will be handled through usual diplomatic channels.
Bear in mind that the S.I was announced every returning resident left for diplomats, VIPs and VVIPs were exempted from quarantine. Also the quarantine period for returnees was 14 and have now been reduced to 10. The new announcement by the acting secretary also exempt returnees with less than 14 days outside the country from mandatory quarantine.
Meanwhile, scientists the world over are ceased with studying the recently discovered Omicron COVID-19 variant which has over 30 mutations and is feared to be highly infectious compared to previous strains. According to avaible data, majority of the cases emanating from the Omicron are mild and some asymptomatic. The Omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries but no deaths have yet been reported according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).