Opinion & Columnist

Easter at home: Covid-19 is real

We celebrate Easter for the second time under lockdown this year, and we hope everyone is marking this most important Christian holiday at home and carefully so that we can have the religious holiday and many of us the secular break from our work in safety. We can still rejoice.

President Mnangagwa obviously took the advice of his medical experts last week when he spoke to the nation and announced, with regret, that Zimbabwe could not risk liberalising the lockdown any further than the easing announced at the beginning of March and in two respects he was forced to tighten it a little.

The reason for this was quite simple, he wanted to save lives. The liberalisation, both official and unofficial, in December and over the Christmas season was largely the cause of the second wave that was so difficult to overcome in January and still required a high level of lockdown in February even after death rates and infection rates had fallen sharply. The Government was not going to risk a third wave.

So boarders and their parents will not be meeting this Easter. The boarders stay at school and parents are barred from visiting. But these days they can talk on the phone. And Zimbabweans exercising their total right to return to Zimbabwe from foreign countries, will this Easter have to present a recent certificate of a negative PCR test for Covid-19 or go into quarantine in a designated hotel at their own expense.

Churches, which in January and February were basically banned from all services except funerals since the social gathering limit was two people, have adapted to the 50 limit allowed for the past five weeks, cancelling processions and mass services and limiting themselves to a succession of 50-parishioner services on Sundays and Holy Days. Some even manage online services so that their members can participate at a distance. But that does not mean we have to be sitting in silence and ignoring the world. We can speak to each other, at least on phones; we can feast at home without any problems; if we are a church member we can read our Bibles and follow the journey Jesus Christ took almost 2000 years ago. For while we live in families and communities, we also have our own responsibilities. While  sitting at home we can imagine the hundreds of thousands who are doing exactly what we are doing. And if we are sad that our church service is less than 50, then let us remember that this considerably more than that small group of disciples and the handful of women who were there on that first Easter.

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Perhaps this will be the last Easter lockdown. A lot depends on how quickly we all come forward as we are called for vaccination. And on Friday, Good Friday, we passed a major target. More than 16 000 people received their first dose of vaccine that day, taking the total to 103 815, with second doses now reaching almost 21 000. That 100 000 milestone means though that the first gift of vaccines from China has been used or committed and we are now using stocks from the second gift and the 1,2 million dose first commercial order. Just as importantly that 16 000 plus people getting their first jab means we have now reached the next target, of vaccinating 500 000 a month.

The Government has said it wants to buy and import 1 million doses of vaccine a month, and that means 500 000 people will be vaccinated each month for first dose and 500 000 for second dose.

We still need the expanded number of vaccination points now being put into operation in both urban and rural areas since we need to vaccinate almost 34 000 a day very soon as the new bulge of first dose people come back for their second jab, but all those who doubted our ability to roll out a vaccination programme can now relax. We can and we are. All that the expansion of vaccination centres means is that queues are shorter, and people do not need to travel so far to get their jabs. There are three reasons why we have now reached this 16 000 a day total. First there is the sheer efficiency of the Ministry of Health in expanding the number of four-nurse teams that actually vet the people coming in, take the details, give the jab and issue the card, and that in itself is a display of high-end organisation. And people are being called up in groups, and that system is working as well.

Secondly the Government has built up the supply chain. The gifts we have so far received from China and India are a very welcome sign of solidarity, but already the majority of doses in Zimbabwe are vaccines we have bought commercially. The Government is not sitting back. The budget has been juggled to make vaccine money appear and the foreign currency has been found. Gifts are very welcome, but we are not just sitting back waiting for help but are using our own resources as well.

Thirdly Zimbabweans now accept that the vaccines we are using are totally safe. Everyone now knows someone who has been vaccinated and many of us are related to someone who has been vaccinated. And some patience might be needed. Vaccinating 500 000 people a month is a lot of people, and that total means with the two-jab vaccines we use that 1 million doses and 1 million syringes are being used. But we will still be going strong for the rest of this year and into next year to reach our 10 million vaccinated people required for herd immunity.

This is common around the world as every country sets up the queuing system using obvious priorities, basically those Zimbabwe has also adopted, and calls their populations in batches to come in for their jabs. There are limits over how many doses a factory can make each day, and even a limit over how many people the nurses can jab each day. Zimbabwe has been fortunate in that having set up a respectable vaccination programme with achievable targets, supplier countries and supplier companies are treating us seriously and are prepared to give us help and are prepared to release our commercial orders in the knowledge that we will be using them soon after arrival. So this is another reason to celebrate this Easter.

We are winning our war against Covid-19. We still have months to go, but we can now see the end, despite the long haul ahead of us. We united to beat back the first two waves; we have largely seen the reason for the lockdown rules still in force for the present, and for some months to come. But now it all seems worthwhile as we can start imagining a time when we can be in a country free of infection.

SUNDAYMAIL