Paidamoyo Chipunza and Conrad Mupesa

There is no need for Zimbabweans to panic over the spike in confirmed Covid-19 cases, but citizens must continue observing basic hygiene and social distancing recommended by public health experts, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

The lockdown will continue at Level 2, although President Mnangagwa keeps this under review and will modify it as circumstances change, the Government has stressed.

Zimbabwe’s confirmed cases crept up to 178 yesterday with four more cases, three among returnees from South Africa and one a returnee from Mozambique, to conclude a week that saw the cumulative total of patients rising by over 100, almost all from those living in quarantine centres on their return to Zimbabwe with only a small fraction of the new patients infected within Zimbabwe.

WHO country representative Dr Alex Gasasira told The Herald yesterday that the surge in confirmed cases called for enhanced responses towards combating Covid-19.

“There is no need to panic. What we would say is that there is need for enhanced vigilance, enhanced compliance with the prevention measures that the Ministry of Health and Child Care and its partners have been sharing with the public,” said Dr Gasasira.

He said following the spike in cases, particularly from quarantine facilities, WHO was sure that Government had started contact tracing and isolating those that tested positive to prevent further spread within the facilities and beyond.

Zimbabweans needed to comply with guidance given by public health experts, as opposed to what can now be seen, especially in high density areas, where people have started congregating in large numbers, without face masks and not observing the required social distance.

Said Dr Gasasira: “Every individual must continue to have the highest level of hand hygiene, to keep physical distance from others, to wear a mask whenever one is going to a public place, to look after that mask properly, and to ensure that when you are sick or someone close to you is sick, they report for proper assessment. This is what is supposed to be done and that is what we would highly recommend.”

People with relatives coming in from other countries must also tell their relatives of the need to go into quarantine, be screened and get tested for Covid-19 before joining the rest of the family so that their families and the returning residents remain safe.

Zimbabwe will continue under level 2 lockdown until President Mnangagwa announces a review and any changes, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa has said.

In an interview with The Herald after the periodic review meeting of the Mashonaland West Provincial Taskforce on Covid-19 in Chinhoyi yesterday, Minister Mutsvangwa said: “The review of the lockdown is under President Mnangagwa’s purview and he is going to do so when he addresses the nation.”

Until the President, after considering the facts, makes any changes, the lockdown would continue at its present level because the disease was still spreading with no cure yet.

Minister Mutsvangwa criticised those grumbling each time President Mnangagwa extends the lockdown, under the pretext that informal traders and others out of employment would continue to struggle to provide for their families. It was more important to ensure that every citizen was safe from the disease ahead of anything else.

In terms of schools re-opening, Minister Mutsvangwa said Cabinet continued to assess the situation but emphasised that schools would only re-open when measures to protect pupils, teachers and parents were in place.

“My grandchildren asked me to talk to the President so that he instructs the opening of schools but I explained to them that the schools will only resume once it is safe for school-children and their parents from the pandemic,” she said.

Pupils will continue to learn from home for now.

Since most of the positive cases being recorded at the moment are among the returning citizens, the strict 21-day quarantine will remain in place but returning citizens were in the priority group for PCR tests, the certain diagnostic test. More food, bedding and water was being availed at the quarantine centres, said Minister Mutsvangwa

The minister is a member of the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19 chaired by Vice President Kembo Mohadi.

Government has warned the country that there may well be more patients as more return home, with a majority of them coming from countries that have recorded high numbers of confirmed cases.

On Wednesday last week, 75 returnees had tested positive within the previous couple of days while on Friday nine returnees tested positive, with seven more testing positive on Saturday but just four yesterday.

Most of the returnees who find they have been infected come from South Africa, Botswana and the United Kingdom where infection rates are far higher than in Zimbabwe.

In remarks in Chinhoyi, Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Mary Mliswa-Chikoka, was worried about those escaping from quarantine centres, putting themselves and others at risk. Her province had started identifying more quarantine centres to cater for the rising numbers of returnees and more isolation facilities for those who might be ill.

Mashayamombe Training Centre in Mhondoro-Mubaira with 300 beds, and Evangelical Church in Chinhoyi, have since been set aside for isolation of patients.

Provincial development coordinator, Cecilia Chitiyo, appealed for assistance from well-wishers as the province seeks to fully capacitate the alternative centres with beds and linen.

Dr Wancesluss Nyamayaro, Mashonaland West Province medical director, said the Chinhoyi provincial isolation that is expected to provide acute care to Covid-19 patients was still only 80 percent complete due to limited resources.

Minister Mutsvangwa urged the public works and health departments to use some of the resources already allocated to complete the main centre before concentrating on decentralising efforts at other isolation centres.

Before her address, she toured Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital’s isolation centre checking on progress. The isolation hospital is being renovated.