Nqobile Tshili and Michell Zvanyanya, Chronicle Reporters
EIGHTY-ONE people who arrived in Bulawayo through the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport recently have been placed under surveillance for Covid-19, a Cabinet Minister has said.
Health and Child Care Minister, Dr Obadiah Moyo said this in a ministerial to the Senate on Tuesday as consultations are underway to decide the fate of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) set for the city next month.
Government has also cancelled a high-level conference organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that was scheduled for Victoria Falls later this month.
On Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) postponed the 57th Committee of Sadc Stock Exchange (CoSSE) meeting and Second Broker’s Networking Session that was scheduled for this week in Victoria Falls due to coronavirus fears.
So far only South Africa has recorded coronavirus cases in Sadc region as the pandemic is spreading across the globe but cases are declining at its epicenter in China. There are no cases of coronavirus in Zimbabwe yet.
On Wednesday, the Global Fund said it will avail US$25 million in the next five days to help Zimbabwe fight Covid 19 and the money will be used for among others emergency response preparations at infectious diseases hospitals, including at Bulawayo’s Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital.
Dr Moyo said as of the beginning of this week, 194 people who entered through the country’s ports of entry were under surveillance and 81 of them had arrived through Joshua Mqabuko International Airport.
He said the people will be continuously monitored for up to 21 days as per protocol. He said on February 19 this year, 3 773 people were placed on self-quarantine and among them were 2 000 Zimbabwean students who were studying in China.
The Minister assured the nation that so far, no positive cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the country. Dr Moyo said with the number of travellers entering the country, scientists have so far managed to test them and confirmed them negative for the virus.
“The only problem is that the type of testing platform that we have takes a bit longer. At the moment, it takes at least five hours before we get the results but it is better than the previous platforms which would take at least one week. We are waiting for the arrival of the rapid test kits which takes about 15 minutes just like when we are testing for HIV/AIDS which takes about 15 minutes,” said Dr Moyo.
“Still, with those, if it tests positive, we still have to go back to the five hour one because it is what we call the definitive test scheme. If someone comes negative on the rapid test, we do not proceed to the confirmatory; it is only when they are positive on the rapid test.”
He said the UK has given the country protective kits that include masks, goggles among others worth £100 000.The Minister said the UK is also spending £1,7 million on the construction of a national Response Centre which is situated at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare that will be completed within two weeks.
“We do not want this COVID-19 to be spread because it spreads like wildfire,” added the Minister.
As a precautionary measure, Government has cancelled a high-level conference organised by the FAO that was scheduled for Victoria Falls later this month.
The country was supposed to host the Regional Conference for Africa (ARC) that was organised by FAO to discuss science-based solutions to tackle agricultural and environmental challenges. FAO director-general Mr QU Dongyu and top officials from the World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB) were expected to attend the conference which would have brought various countries on the continent to Zimbabwe.
The cancellation of the conference comes days after Sadc health ministers resolved to suspend all the events in the region to reduce the region’s chances of recording the virus.
During a Press briefing on Thursday in Bulawayo, Health and Child Care Ministry Permanent Secretary Dr Agnes Mahomva said:
“So, we as a Ministry, as an arm of Government we are there to give the technically sound advice, that then helps those who are making decisions to continue with the conference or cancel it. As you saw today (Thursday) the one that was supposed to happen with the Ministry of Agriculture (Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement) and so on has been cancelled based on the discussions that we have been making with them,” said Dr Mahomva.
She said Government was working closely with organisers of the ZITF on the course of action to be taken relating to the hosting of the trade fair next month.
“I can’t give you a position at the moment because quite clearly consultations are taking place and those who are directly involved will finally come up with a decision. But I’m happy to say they are consulting us as the Ministry of Health and Child Care. We are the ones that have the technical expertise to say what is happening, what needs to happen. We are actually having daily advice to the nation and hence we are ready to give anyone and everybody specific advice on specific areas whether it’s a conference, whether it’s an international fair you are talking about,” she said.
Dr Mahomva said with expert advice from China and the World Health Organisation (WHO), Zimbabwe was coming up with comprehensive Covid-19 screening procedures.
“As we are speaking, we are finalising our revised response plan. At the beginning we put in a very rushed national response plan. Now we are revising it, updating it and strengthening base on the experiences that we have received in Zimbabwe with all the scares that have been going around but also the experiences that are coming from China who are experts now,” said Dr Mahomva.
She said China has the best expertise on Covid-19 as it was the hardest hit and is now successfully containing the virus.