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Chenayi Mutambasere: How COVID-19 caught us with our masks half down

By Chenayi Mutambasere

While the rest of the western world is struggling to battle a baffling enemy one that appeared in the still of the night relentless and an uncaring. Zimbabwe finds itself less than prepared.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa failing to wear his mask properly
President Emmerson Mnangagwa failing to wear his mask properly

The covid 19 virus has changed the way the world is. The world has a new norm that requires all to hide and stay away to self preserve ourselves and those we care about.

Governments that have contingencies to be ready for the worst war or biggest economic crisis have been found wanting. The pandemic demands more, more hospitals, more masks, more ventilators, more nurses, more PPE, more vitamin  , and so on and so forth. The world has had to Be Still for a moment to deal with this enemy that no naked eyes can see or ears hear or tongues taste.

Amidst the worldwide pandemonium Africa has not found itself immune. Governments some earlier than others have taken an averse approach knowing that if those that have plenty have been found wanting then what of the continent where resources are scarce on any ordinary day.

Special mention must be made to governments who have been quick to recognise the enemy and put their people first.

Museveni in Uganda recognised during lockdown the poor will require funds and negotiation over outstanding bills incurred an initial acknowledgment in itself reassuring.

So resolute has the government in Uganda that even foreign nationals such as Chinese wanting to border jump to or from DRC have been quarantined and tested for Covid. In Kenya Kenyatta was one of the first premiers to shut the borders to foreigners and charter Kenyans home .

That being a deliberate move to reduce transmission from countries with high infection risks. In Rwanda the government response has been resolute with a push towards testing inspite of limited lab resources they have also reassured the poor through donation of food and other subsistence supplies during lockdown.

Our neighbours in South Africa banned foreign visitors with the national airline suspending even regional flights. Where Ramaphosa and his government have really proven themselves has been the countrywide testing.

Covid-19 testing is key as it allows planning for treatment but also contact tracing which is a powerful tool in advocating self isolation. 

In South Africa mobile testing units exist such that suspected patients don’t have to travel far or to expose non covid patients by being in community clinics or hospitals haphazardly.

Ramaphosa has also requested landlords to not collect rent till everything gets back to normal with banks offering mortgage holidays to landlords.

With all this good practice what of our beloved teapot country. Unfortunately the government of Zimbabwe has been found more than wanting. A recent call from the UK foreign office inviting all Brits in Zimbabwe to return to the UK by Saturday being a significant signal in the lack of confidence by the UK government in the preparedness of the Zimbabwean government.

Aside from not knowing how to wear masks properly I will list some of my independent observations of the government shortfalls in this crisis:

1- There is a continued resistance by government to slow down or shut down its borders to inbound foreign travellers from high risk countries including UK and China.

From when the outbreak ensued in Wuhan the Zimbabwean airport continued to receive Chinese travellers none of whom would be tested on arrival. Instead airport stuff were asked to advise them to self isolate when they got to their address.

Yes they were measured temperatures on arrival but without an exact protocol of where people were sent to if they reported a fever.

Needless to say that intelligence on the virus reveals carriers can be asymptomatic so the best is to treat anyone from a high risk area as though they have been exposed and test test test.

2- Lack of sufficient test kits. So far the government has announced there are 400 test kits . Most of which are available at central hospitals in the urban areas.

WHO has called out that for eradication of COVID testing is but essential . This limited supply means that testing isn’t available locally for most people

3- Delay in training or briefing healthcare professionals . So far the government has announced 2 fatalities from COVID in Harare and Bulawayo respectively.

An analysis of the cases shows up some major gaps in the responses of the healthcare systems. These gaps may have contributed to the demise of these victims but also left many exposed to this infection.

4- Lack of ventilators . I was deeply saddened to learn that the whole country has 7 working ventilators with a good 23 existing but needing repair.

All this on the backdrop of acquisition of land cruisers for ministers using tax payers’ money. Or indeed the expensive medical tourism trips to Singapore, China etc

5- Economic crisis at odds with social distancing. It is a public secret that social distancing or indeed lockdown policies are at par where people generally live hand to mouth.

Here in the UK magic circle law firms have stopped payments to partners as a reflection of the pursuant times. So you can imagine if multimillion companies can’t manage thus what more of fruit vendors in the streets of Mbare?

It broke my heart to watch ZRP officers burning fruits and vegetables. This especially when even medical professionals are advocating that vitamin C intake maybe the difference between life or death for some .

Why not even purchase them from the vendors and work with Schweppes to liquify them into vitamin packed drinks for distribution in communities (thank me later someone).

6- Lack of PPEs . PPEs particularly for healthcare professionals are essential to curb transmission and to preserve the lives of healthcare professionals. The UK has already seen some professionals lose their lives with Italy having lost more than 50 doctors .

This vital service must be properly equipped as they are frontline and first port of call for all tested and not tested cases. What is saddening is that our country would probably be able to produce enough PPE for ourselves and even other countries by capitalising on Bulawayo textile industry capacity.

7- With all the pandemonium big wig spending continues in government fancy cars medical trips to China continue to be the order of the day. This being while governments everywhere are bracing up financial crisis why can’t we save the bit we have ?

Anyhow like most zimbabwean households can probably tell you during this lockdown, the one thing about Covid-19 we are in it together. The impact will not discriminate, the threat is a risk to all.

Like that wife and children who have been second rated citizens for years to the attractive mistress, this time covid has colocated everyone the impact of years of looting exposing the whole nation…

Besides a deep intercessory call to pray that the Lord spare our nation from this cup – it is the time for government to bring in new talent to safeguard existing funds but also bring in new critical thinking for such a time as this.

Chenayi Mutambasere (Msc Development Economics and Policy) is the MDC UK and Ireland Province Secretary for Industry and Commerce. You can follow her on Twitter: @ChenayiM

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