Nqobile Tshili/Andile Tshuma, Chronicle Reporters
HEALTH experts have raised alarm over spiking Covid-19 cases in the country amid calls for strict adherence to measures to contain the disease.
Government imposed an indefinite level two lockdown to arrest the spread of Covid-19.
However, of late some members of the public have been disregarding lockdown regulations with vendors and pirate taxis returning to the streets. Some people have also been aimlessly visiting the city centre.
Zimbabwe on Wednesday saw a surge in Covid-19 cases recording 76 new cases, increasing the confirmed cases to 132 inclusive of 25 recoveries and four deaths.
The new cases are largely emanating from returnees from South Africa and Botswana and accommodated in quarantine centres in Beitbridge in Matabeleland South Masvingo and Harare.
In separate interviews, experts warned that with new Covid-19 cases the country’s citizens need to be more cautious.
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Dr Solwayo Ngwenya warned that cases could escalate if people continued taking a casual approach towards the deadly pandemic. He said the infection rate could start increasing going forward as has been observed in other countries.
“Our infection rate is no longer at zero so when the infection rate goes to three it means that one person will infect three more people and those three will infect three more. Right now, we are at an exponential curve, the virus is spreading rapidly. It will be hard to stop it if our people continue not to observe lockdown regulations as we have observed with the free movement of people, large queues in banks and other areas,” he said.
Dr Ngwenya said Government needs to further assess the impact of the new cases and possibly re-introduce stringent lockdown regulations.
Covid-19 cases seem to be increasing at a time when Government is working towards reopening of learning institutions. Universities are set to re-open on Monday while modalities for the staggered reopening of schools are on course.
Zimbabwe Medical Association (Zima) president Dr Francis Chiwora said it was worrisome that Government was working on re-opening learning institutions.
He said the country should take a cue from other countries that have re-opened schools and experienced rapid increases in the number of Covid-19 cases.
“We should not relax. I think it’s worrisome that schools are planning on re-opening. We need to really decongest the schools especially considering that children may not be the best group to observe Covid-19 prevention measures. However, opening of schools is a bit worrying considering what has happened in France where after they opened schools they started recording new cases. The best option for schools at the moment is virtual learning and the same applies to universities,” he said.
Dr Chiwora however said online learning comes with its shortcomings, particularly considering that there is also need for practical lessons.
“We have medical students that have to do practical lessons, through dealing with patients. We need to emphasise the need for the public to observe social distancing while wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as face masks and use of hand sanitizers,” said Dr Chiwora.
Local medical expert, Dr Ritta Dlodlo said in view of the newly reported cases, she has a lot of questions that the Ministry of Health and Child Care needs to explain before she could give a detailed response on the course of action to be adopted. Workers are also concerned with the increase in Covid-19 cases.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Mr Japhet Moyo said the recent surge in Covid-19 cases was putting the lives of workers at risk. He called on Government to introduce more stringent measures to ensure that people abide by lockdown regulations.
“Employers are not providing standard PPE and the transportation of the workers is problematic as they are exposed to Covid-19 en-route to their workplaces. The surge in Covid-19 cases is therefore problematic and worrisome as industry is open and people are going to work yet most employers are not providing necessary safety gear and other needed materials,” he said.
“Even at the workplace, workers do not adhere to social distancing and if they do, when they knock off they are crammed in trucks with strangers and are at risk of contracting Covid-19.”
Higher and tertiary education institutions such as the National University of Science and Technology have come up with a learning programme ahead of the reopening of universities, doing away with evening lectures.
Zimbabwe Congress of Students Union president Mr Pijiwest Nhamburo said while there is a need to wrap up the 2019/2020 academic year, Government should put in place measures to ensure that higher and tertiary education institutions do not become epicentres of Covid-19.
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association chief executive officer Dr Sifiso Ndlovu said most public schools are not ready to open for both formal and cyber lessons. “Countries that have sought to open under Covid-19 conditions have reduced class sizes to below 20, have invested in health protocols that mitigate the contagion. However, they have experienced spikes and threats of schools being epicentres of a rebound attack have become real so we are better advised by those experiences,” said Dr Ndlovu.
He said it was up to Government to engage critical stakeholders to allay fears and raise their confidence levels in believing that the system knows what should happen to education in crisis. The new Covid-19 cases are concentrated in quarantine centres accommodating returning residents and police have recorded 118 escapees from the facilities.
In light of the development, Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube yesterday warned residents against harbouring returnees who abscond from quarantine centres.
“We urge members of the public to report all people who have suddenly come from outside the country when there is reasonable suspicion that they may have absconded quarantine facilities. We know that people are using illegal crossing points to come in. You can never be too careful about your life and your health. Those that hide their relatives, beware that you are committing an offence and you risk being arrested and prosecuted as it is a crime to harbour a fugitive of the law,” said Insp Ncube. — @nqotshili/[email protected]_tshuma