Since the first case was recorded on March 20 until a week or so ago, almost all Covid-19 cases in the country were imported and concentrated in quarantine centres.
The centres, specifically established to house Zimbabweans returning from abroad were the hotspots for the infection. Now, as the quarantine facilities are emptying as more and more people complete their mandatory three weeks of living there, more new cases are being recorded out in the community.
We have expressed worry on these pages before as a growing number of people sneaked out of quarantine centres. Some were negative of Covid-19 or waiting for their results yet others were positive. By Saturday 225 people had escaped from quarantine centres countrywide and just 29 had been arrested. Fourteen returnees from South Africa who tested positive to the virus escaped from Beitbridge quarantine and isolation centre on Friday. Authorities named the escapees as Mercy Ndou (32) of Chaswingo, Beitbridge, Tumelo Nyathi (24), from Chief Staudze area in Beitbridge, Patience Mudau (26) of Chaswingo, Beitbridge, Innocent Sibanda (20) of Chipise, Beitbridge, Venson Siwela (33) of Magwegwe in Bulawayo, Brenda Magayisa (31) of Dulivhadzimu, Beitbridge and David Mubvumbi (23) of Gokwe. The other escapees were identified as Tapiwa Moyo (29) of Mberengwa, Godfrey Moyo (26) of Beitbridge Town, Wiseman Ngwenya (31) of Beitbridge Town, Morgen Moyo (23) of Madaulo, Beitbridge, Alex Mbedzi (35) of Chipise, Beitbridge, Thatho Mazibeli (20) of Masera, Beitbridge and Calvin Bete (25) of Chivhu.
As the number of escapees increases, we can now say Covid-19 has escaped from quarantine centres and is establishing itself in communities. This is worrying. It was better for us to deal with the disease when it was in known geographical sites housing a small number of people than having to deal with a more generalised outbreak which can sicken and kill people anywhere across the country.
With winter having set in, more Covid-19 cases being reported in the communities, as lockdown restrictions being eased and as schools and institutions of higher learning are reopening, we might be in for a challenge.
Health experts are worried too. They are worried that the rise in local transmissions could point to a bigger problem as they show that many people within society may not be aware that they are living with the virus.
“This week, Covid-19 positive figures spiked to an all-time high of over 980 cases with a significant number being local or community transmission,” we quote Community Working Group on Health executive director, Mr Itai Rusike saying elsewhere today.
“At this rate, and without stringent preventative measures, coupled with striking health workers and a broken health system, it is definitely a matter of time before Zimbabwe experiences high fatality rates.”
The good news is that there is a lot that we can do as individuals, at community and government level to arrest the spike. The time has now come for every one of us to be more vigilant and responsible in the way we conduct ourselves at home and in public. If any one of us had no idea why they had to wear a suitably-made mask properly all the time they are in public, the time is now. Social distancing is a must too; that metre-plus between you and the next person can save you. In the past, Covid-19 was in quarantine centres, but now it is out and you can never know who is infected or not, hence the need for social distancing.
Regular and thorough hand-washing must now be a rule.
United Bulawayo Hospitals acting executive officer Dr Narcissus Dzvanga who is puzzled as to how 18 workers in the same ward at the facility tested positive for Covid-19 last week, says people should take due caution.
“I’m one advocate for wearing a mask at all times not just in public places. Hand hygiene plays a big role in the control of this virus. And it’s a winter virus and this is the time for it to raise its ugly head. It’s worrying that it is affecting our staff but this is where we are supposed to find it. It was going to be more deadly if we are to find such numbers in the community. But if it is in a treatment centre, this is one of the occupational risks that are there and we have to rise and ensure that there is appropriate PPEs,” he said.
Indeed safety measures should be upheld even when one is among friends and workmates because some people may have the virus without showing symptoms and may spread it to everyone who comes into contact with them.
We have said this before and we will not tire to reiterate – police and other law enforcement agencies must work harder to enforce security at quarantine centres so that those still resident there don’t escape with the virus to infect more outside. Government needs to support them fully in terms of providing resources for police and other law enforcement agents to do their work more effectively.
Now that we are having a more generalised outbreak, there might be need for the Government to reconsider the lockdown. We are glad that the President is thinking along those lines given his speech at the Zanu-PF Politburo meeting in Harare on Friday.