Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
COVID-19 cases have started rising again with latest statistics indicating over 700 new infections on Wednesday up from only nine cases in the last 10-day reporting cycle.
On Tuesday, 399 new cases were recorded with figures almost doubling within 24 hours, amid warnings by health experts that the numbers could soar in the coming few weeks due to complacency.
On Wednesday, the country had 712 new cases with Bulawayo recording 72 new infections bringing the total number of cases in the country to 135 337.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care daily report, on Wednesday the number of active cases rose to 1 846 from 511 in 10 days.
However, there were no Covid-19 related deaths recorded.
The spike in daily cases to three-digit figures has occurred in days as on Sunday last week, the country recorded only nine cases with Bulawayo recording only one case.
In view of a likely fourth wave, which the new variant, Omicron, will most certainly aggravate, President Mnangagwa on Tuesday announced new lockdown measures.
Some of those measures include mandatory 10-day quarantine for all returning residents and visitors. The new regulations stipulate that everyone entering Zimbabwe must undergo a Covid-19 PCR test even when they produce a Covid-19 free certificate from elsewhere.
Even if negative they should go into mandatory quarantine at their own cost in a facility designated by the Government.
The President’s address was in response to reports of a new strain of Covid-19 virus which has been reported in some Sadc countries.
African countries are stepping up measures to detect and control the spread of the Omicron variant as weekly new Covid-19 cases on the continent rise by 54 percent due to an upsurge in Southern Africa.
In Africa, the Omicron variant has now been detected in four countries, with Ghana and Nigeria becoming the first West African countries and the latest on the continent to report the new variant.
As of Wednesday, Botswana and South Africa had reported 19 and 172 Omicron variant cases, respectively.
Globally, over 20 countries have detected the variant. The two Southern Africa countries account for 62 percent of cases reported globally.
Omicron has a high number of mutations, 32, in its spike protein, and preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection, when compared with other variants of concern.
Researchers and scientists in South Africa and the region are intensifying their investigations to understand the transmissibility, severity and impact of the Omicron variant in relation to the available vaccines, diagnostics and treatment and whether it is driving the latest surge in Covid-19 infections.
Local health experts have warned citizens against complacency in the wake of the spike, saying it was highly likely that the rising figures reflect the beginning of a fourth wave.
Bulawayo Provincial Medical Director Maphios Siamuchembu attributed the rise in infections to public gatherings.
“There is an increase in the number of new cases nationally.
On Wednesday, the number was double the number we had the previous day.
So far, our investigations seem to suggest that these are local transmissions that are happening in public gatherings such as funerals, church gatherings, schools and colleges,” he said.
“While it could be possible that this could be the beginning of the fourth wave, for now we are not yet sure.”
Dr Siamuchembu urged residents to avoid unnecessary public gatherings and adhere to WHO health protocols.
“Whenever people show symptoms of Covid-19, they should go to the nearest health facility and get tested and those found positive should self-isolate to avoid spreading the virus.
We should make sure that we properly wear face masks in public spaces, sanitise and maintain social distancing,” he said.
Dr Siamuchembu urged people to get vaccinated to help fight the spread of the coronavirus and protect themselves.
“The largest weapon we have scientifically at the moment is vaccination.
I continue to urge Bulawayo residents to get vaccinated. Although vaccination doesn’t stop the transmission of the virus, but it reduces the severity of the disease, hospital admission and of course the number of deaths,” he said.
Bulawayo city health director Dr Edwin Sibanda said the rise in cases was inevitable due to complacency.
“People have started relaxing as evidenced by uncontrolled gatherings and parties, opening of bars and schools.
Unlike in the rural areas, you find learners staying in Nkulumane and attending school in Hillside or someone staying in the same suburb and working in Belmont thus Covid-19 spreading very fast,” he said.
“My take is that we are already in the fourth wave whether we are in the early stages or in the middle of it, I don’t know, but the figures will inform us.
The unfortunate thing is that our airports were open and we were getting arrivals from countries in Europe and the United States that are already in the fourth wave.”
Dr Sibanda said most of the cases being reported are local transmissions. He urged people to get vaccinated.
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said the rise in cases points to the fourth wave.
“People had become complacent over the months and we have seen a build-up in the past three months and now there is a new variant.
Even if we haven’t confirmed Omicron from the clinical point of view, you can actually see from the way the new Covid-19 cases are rapidly spreading that we are in the fourth wave,” he said.
“This is the time when Government has to tighten lockdown regulations because if they don’t, we are likely to find the situation spiralling out of control.
What happens with new variants is that they spread far and wide and then hospitalisations come after a week or so and we start losing lives.”