By Nelson Chamisa
Fellow Zimbabweans, I come to your in circumstances of extreme national emergency. We have an extraordinary situation in our country. We are facing an extremely challenging national outlook.
The COVID 19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in every family, every village, every suburb and every community. But remember, every COVID 19 statistic is a human being.
Every other day, we are losing another friend, another workmate, another relative, another leader and another Zimbabwean.
Just as of yesterday, Zimbabwe recorded 1075 deaths. Our figure for those who have tested positive to date is over the 30000 mark.
My condolences to all those who lost their loved ones. We continue to pray for those who are not feeling well.Get well soon! Let us observe a minute of silence in honour of our dear departed.
COVID-19 pauses a serious threat to our existence. It may threaten our national security and collective public safety if not handled with astuteness and statesmanship.
It can’t be business as usual. A catastrophe is starring us in the face. If we don’t do something extraordinary, the situation is going to get worse and out of control.
We can correct this only if we get our act together as a people.
On the 30th of January 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus disease (Covid19) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern under the International Health Regulations of 2005.
Zimbabwe reported its first official Covid19 case on the 20th of March 2020. Since then, a lot has happened and been done.
We appreciate the various initiatives by different stakeholders and government.
The response of the Ministry of Health in particular and the Government in general is noted and appreciated.
Various initiatives have been instituted to ameliorate the situation. In this regard, we salute our nurses, doctors who have been stunning and outstanding as a battalion of patriots and national zealots.
For your courage and ingenuity our country will remain in debt to you and your families.
We wish to also thank our Environmental health professionals who are doing contact tracing. Our port health officers, lab scientists running the tests, general hands cleaning the wards and housing covid patients, among many other Health care workers.
We also honour our police, military, (soldiers) prison and intelligence services including all those others offering essential services in various sectors.
We salute our information and communication practitioners, the media, our journalists for the great work in spreading the information on COVID 19 and keeping the nation informed on this deadly pandemic.
We wish to thank the international community. The UN, EU, USA, UK and China among many others.
Allow me to thank our neighboring countries in particular South Africa and Botswana for bearing the burden carrying of our diaspora citizens on our behalf.
We also wish to thank our wonderful citizens in the diaspora.
We thank those who have been donating PPE in hospitals. Particularly in Bulawayo, Matabeleland South, Kwekwe, Chitungwiza, Hwange to mention a few.
I’m glad this great effort is not being politicized.
We also thank you, the individual volunteering citizens who have been exceptional in creative ways to help citizens. The Ekusileni project is a case on point.
We thank you for the selfless service and sacrifices.
Let me also thank the people at home. Let me thank you all my fellow countrymen, the great Zimbabwean people. You have done us proud. Although the virus is bad, l know that given the state of our healthcare system things could have been worse.
You the people of Zimbabwe have acted as our national reserve guard force against the pandemic. You have made sure you mask up and have continued to remind others to wear their masks and to do so properly.
We thank you all, the peace loving and hardworking citizens of Zimbabwe, for your love, care and amity.
We also thank Our God, The Almighty, for the providence and preservation.
Although the approach of central government has been deficient in several key areas, we choose not to play politics with this serious issue. We have steered clear of finding fault and blame gaming.
The objective underlying this proposed plan is to offer an alternative policy framework to the manner in which the Government has approached the COVID19 response thus far.
We posit this policy mix and alternative plan to shed light on how citizens, development partners and the regional community can work together in driving a more coordinated response to save lives, protect livelihoods and prevent our economy from collapsing.
On top of borrowing from global experience and best practice and the best scientific evidence, we suggest a uniquely Zimbabwean response that is customized and tailored to the circumstances, competencies and capabilities of our great nation.
COVID-19 EMERGING ISSUES ZIMBABWE
1. CAPACITY OF HEALTH INSTITUTIONS with COVID19 cases almost tripling in the last 6 weeks, our hospitals are overwhelmed and failing to cope with the number of COVID19 infected patients requiring hospital admissions. We know that 10-15% of all cases will progress to severe illness and approximately 5% of cases will become critically ill.
The average daily cases over the past 2 weeks in Zimbabwe are around 700 cases. This means that between 70 and 105 people per day may progress to severe disease which may require hospital admission.
These numbers are too high for our health infrastructure to cope and as a result our capacity to handled severe cases of COVID-19 seem to be surpassed and resulting in suboptimal and in some instances non-existent emergency services for people with severe COVID-19. Parirenyatwa had to increase covid19 wards week.
This may be one of the reasons for the high death rates that we have been witnessing over the past weeks. There is need to urgently increase the bed capacity in public hospitals so that patients with COVID-19 have access to oxygen therapy, as well ventilators for those who are critically ill. These services need to be decentralised and become available in all provinces. The situation is not good at all. Access to a bed and oxygen therapy must be more readily available across the country.
Whilst the lockdown was a welcome move to try and minimise the rate of spread of infections, there is need to effectively implement the lockdown. Studies have shown it is better to implement a short but effective lockdown rather than a prolonged lockdown as compliance with lockdown regulations goes down with a prolonged lockdown.
The unavailability of social safety nets for the vulnerable, considering our heavily informal economy, means that people will be forced to breach lockdown regulations if search of food, water and money to cater for their families. This again reduces the effectiveness of the lockdown. We must be careful not to flatten the economy in our bid flattening the curve. We face the risk of a lockdown induced poverty.
It is desirable and advisable to adopt other approaches to a lockdown. We could consider a partial lockdown or a spatial lockdown or a staggered lockdown .Lockdowns are not meant to be permanent solutions, there is need to create a lockdown exit strategy.
WE REITERATE THAT, CONTRARY TO THE WHOLESALE, UNSTRUCTURED AND PANIC INDUCED SHUTDOWN WE WOULD PURSUE AN ALTERNATIVE PATH THAT SAVES LIVES AND PROTECTS LIVELIHOODS, PREVENTING OUR ECONOMY FROM COLLAPSING AND SAVING OUR PEOPLE FROM HUNGER.
3. Testing and Screening
Our neighbours South Africa have reported a new variant of the SARS-COV-2 virus, being named B.1.351. This strain has been shown to be more transmissible than the original covid19 virus. With people coming into Zimbabwe for the festive season using our porous borders as well as reports of invalid and fake COVID-19 certificates, there is likelihood that this strain may have been imported into the country.
Health professionals are reporting difference in clinical presentations between the first wave and the current wave of infections, as well as a high rate of false negative results on PCR tests. This is an indicator that we might be dealing with a different strain of covid19 virus.
There is need for us to conduct tests (or through the help of other countries like neighbouring South Africa if we cannot conduct the genetic testing of the virus) to ascertain what type of virus we are dealing with.
We also welcome the availability of the COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Tests, which have been shown to be more reliable in detecting COVID-19 than the Antibody tests. These tests are much cheaper than the PCR tests. We need to increase availability of these tests across the country so that we can detect as much people as possible, isolate those positive, and conduct contact tracing. This will slow down the rate of infections
Leadership is now required. We immediately demand the reduction of the cost of our health services. In fact we must make it free for COVID-19 patients who are in serious condition. We must decentralize testing and roll out free testing to rural areas at growth points and townships including at all clinics and hospitals.
4. HEALTH WORKERS WELFARE AND CAPACITY
Our health workers have been on the frontline fighting this pandemic. However, in order for them to effectively do their job they need to be capacitated with the necessary tools of trade. According to the Health Services Board, over 1500 health workers have already been infected with COVID-19, and 7 deaths recorded.
The intermittent and chronic shortage of PPEs is one of the reasons why we have this huge number of health workers getting infected. Recently nurses at Sally Mugabe hospital were protesting over the shortage of PPE. The situation is similar in other hospitals across the country. PPE should be readily available in order to at least offer protection to our frontline workers. Shortage of health workers is a major reason why we have limited bed capacity for covid19 patients.
We therefore cannot afford to continue losing health workers either through deaths or through absenteeism from work when infected health workers undergo their mandatory isolation periods.
We need adequate Remuneration as an incentive including a risk allowance for all our health care workers.
5. CONTINUOUS CARE FOR OTHER HEALTH CONDITIONS
Whilst the attention and focus is on combating the COVID19 pandemic, there is need to continue providing care for other health conditions so as to avoidable morbidity and mortality from other illnesses. Recently Parirenyatwa Hospital announced that they are scaling down Chemotherapy services at their radiotherapy centre.
This severely compromises access to care for cancer patients as there are only 2 institutions in the public sector offering such services in the whole country. Measures need to be put in place to make sure that services for chronic conditions such as HIV, Diabetes, Hypertension, mental illness as well as access to reproductive health and maternal and child health continue during the pandemic.
We have experienced above normal rains and floods this year, and with the malaria season approaching, there is a likelihood of an increase in malaria cases. People should continue to access services in order to avoid deaths from malaria.
6. Super spreaders
Funerals and congested places like prisons have become serious super spreaders.
Our prisons have become covid superspreder, hot spots and zones .
7. COVID-19 VACCINE ROLL OUT PLAN
Many countries in Europe, America and Asia have already begun vaccinating their populations.
In Africa, though vaccinations have not begun, many countries including South Africa and Kenya have already placed orders for vaccines. Whilst the country is set to benefit vaccines from the World Health Organization backed COVAX scheme, as well as from arrangements from the AU, these vaccines will not be enough for attainment of herd immunity (which is estimated at approximately 60%). There is need for the government to set aside funds for the procurement of additional support.
More importantly, it is necessary for Africa to invest into Research and Development to provide solutions for our local people. We are a continent with great capacity to deal with any disease. We need to invest more in studying the mutating virus, so that we avail the best solution which is safe for our people.
Zimbabwe needs to: • Avail funds for the development, manufacturing and procurement of COVID-19 solutions • Avail funds for treatment of the communities • Start the process of identifying at risk populations who are supposed to receive the treatment first. For an treatment plan, priority must be given to the elderly, the vulnerable, people living with disabilities, widows, orphans and our frontline workers.
What is the Way Forward
Our national strategy must be predicated upon the following;
1.Broad based inclusive national task force.
2.Elaborate testing, screening and isolation plan
3.Capacitating health institutions and frontline workers
4.Zonal Spatial lockdown targeting epicenters
5.Resourcing strategy through domestic resource mobilization and global appeals
6. Unleashing 4th industrial revolution and the internet of things.
The following are immediate:
1. There is need for a deliberate approach to involve all the players, political, labour, Government, academics, churches, citizens, CSOs, private sector – a United Team Zimbabwe approach;
2. Establish a National Covid Advisory Group of Experts and let science take the lead
3. Invite WHO and other experts for an assessment and evaluation of current National response.
4. Contrary to the current situation where citizens are on lockdown with no testing taking place, Government must roll out national testing by contacting a door to door testing approach
5. In the same vein, as we continue to fight corona virus, the following measures must be considered
a. Provision of personal protective equipment for our frontline staff such as nurses, doctors, janitors, administrative staff, police, soldiers and state employees;
b. Provision of at least US$2000 risk allowance and tax exemption for all health professionals, security servicemen/women and government workers on duty. We want to emphases that, in view of the disparities in the exchange rates, this must be paid in hard cash, that is, in USD;
c. Provision of sanitisers and masks for all;
d. Provision of radio and TV lessons dedicated for the education of the masses about corona virus;
e. In view of rampant corruption which have become a permanent feature under the Second Republic, will call upon Government to ensure transparency and accountability in the handling of corona virus issues by Government
6.With input from (1), come up with safety nets for the citizens during and after lockdown and come up with elaborate measures aimed at containing the virus. Among the cushioning measures Government should consider should include:
a. Rolling out of humanitarian support to vulnerable people. This may include provision of cash handouts and the subsidized basic goods such as mealie meal, water, internet, electricity and fuel for our vulnerable and most at risk populations;or
provide specialized support to the elderly people, persons with disability amongst others.
b. Creation of new model for informal sector trading where basic of commodities in undertaken that seeks to achieve decongestion and decentralization. The aim will be ensure sustained livelihoods;
7.In line with stakeholders, Government must develop information tool kit for the citizens with a view to create awareness on the progress made towards containing the virus. This information tool kit must be extensively disseminated through various media channels/platforms and campaigns in hotspot areas;
8. The information tool kit must provide specific details such as number of people tested per day, accurate statistical figures on the outcomes of the tests with hope that this information can provide evidence to show how the country is coping with the disease and possible indication of how the lockdown will last as opposed to being reactive. For Zimbabwe, because of our context where we have over 5.7 million people in the informal sector, it is important that we get out of the lockdown quickly to save lives from hunger. Hence, the importance of reasonable statistical evidence on testing and the level of prevalence of the pandemic cannot be overemphasised.
9. In view of the need to save lives from hunger and the corona virus and also saving the economy from total collapse, we need to come out of lockdown and seal our borders save for trade and come up with an organised strategy of returning back to work with inputs from (1);
10. There is need for a post lockdown strategy that articulates how various sectors of the economy will be resuscitated and developed using a phased approach. There is need for a clear strategy on how the economy will be rescued and be brought back to life, how people will return back to work, how children will go back to school – This may take the form of a spatial and tier approach to lockdown – A back to normal life roadmap –.
11. In the interim, Government must look at Look at the education sector and what can be done to ensure students don’t lose much learning time. Alternative teaching methods must be fully explored and scaled up using platforms such as TV and radio whilst the cost of data must be subsidized for students.
There is need to explore the use of TV, the role ZBC can play in providing both radio and television lessons.Radio lessons will help even those in remote areas becoz of its wide coverage. Teachers and teachers’ associations should be engaged on how best they can teach their students during this pandemic.
12.Civil servants who can work from home should be allowed to do so and decongest the work place. Civil servants must be given access to data and availed digital gadgets and services. We must encourage and enforce fumigation of these work places
13 There is need to marshal resources for the countries Covid response. This may include budget recasting and budget viramenting
a. Cut down government expenditure especially on non essential items like luxury vehicles for government officials and civil service
b. Channeling the touted surplus towards the Covid response
14 . We must empty remand prisons expect for very very serious offenses
Give amnesty to most prisoners except those on very very serious charges
We need a plan to decongest them or strict regimes of testing screening and isolation and regular disinfecting
15. We must allow churches to open for controlled number of people provided there is social distancing, masking and other COVID-19 protocols.
16. There is need to ensure we pay attention to our economy and ensures it survives the tide of the Covid pandemic. From policy perspective, the following are necessary:
a. In order to improve competitiveness of our exporters and eliminate exchange rate losses, RBZ must allow banks to take full control of foreign exchange trading with a view to guarantee an efficient price discovery where the informal rate converges with the formal rate or where the disparities between the two rates are minimised to levels below 10%.
b. Furthermore, whilst we understand the importance of sharing foreign currency as a scarce resource for national development purposes, the recently announced export retention of 40% in a period which is characterised by COVID-19 pandemic, drought of stimulus package and over 30% disparities between the formal exchange rate and the parallel market rate, is both regressive and inconsiderate. In view of this, we call upon the RBZ to reduce export retention to 20% – thus allowing exporters to retain 80% of our export earnings.
c. Government failure to offer real stimulus package to save businesses is a cause for great concern. It must be appreciated that both the ZWL$18 billion package for large business and ZWL$600 million for SMEs are a drop in the ocean.
This is so considering that the economy requires funding in the region of US$5 billion.
In line with (1), we call upon Government to come up with a reasonable package to save businesses small and large.
d. Government should consider a number of fiscal measures aimed at reducing tax burden for businesses and individuals where appropriate. The following must be considered:
i. Immediate removal of the 2% tax to spur business growth;
ii. Rationalisation of tax where sectors such as tourism and mining with 22 and 15 tax heads, respectively should see some of the tax heads being removed.
In the long term there is need for a post Covid reconstruction and recovery programme. This takes inputs from (1);
More importantly, must depoliticize Covid and understand that it kills anyone and everyone
Since the effects of COVID-19 are non-partisan, I want to implore each and every Zimbabwean to take this opportunity to be each others keeper.
We know the inadequacies of our system and the struggles of collective well-being; however, now is the time to look to each other to ensure that we fight COVID-19 through our collective Ubuntu. Our brothers and sisters are dying, we must wash our hands, mask-up and keep our distance.
No one is coming to save us, it’s time we work together to stop the spread Unity is key in the face of COVID-19. All of us must put aside their political differences and work together in the fight against COVID-19. It’s not the time to score political points but to work together. Those who like to trade insults and grand standing its not the time our people are dying.
I appeal to the international community to save the country’s health sector and the people of Zimbabwe. NB. The sector was struggling before the pandemic and Covid has obviously led to it being overwhelmed and it needs support. We appeal to the international community ,donors ,business tycoons, Zimbabweans in the diaspora who can assist.
Fellow countrymen we must wither the covid 19 storm.
Our best medical brains should be allowed to lead in the fight against this global pandemic.The same team managed to reduce the HIV prevalence rate likewise thy will manage to contain this pandemic if we listen and allow the experts to guide us. I encourage the nation to follow the guidelines and protocols of reducing the spread of the pandemic.
To Our Bishops, Pastors, the church body and Intercessors and believers we encourage to continue to stand in the gap to pray for our nation. We must stand in prayer with those who have been affected by the pandemic. May the Holy Spirit comfort all the families who lost their loved ones.
I enjoin citizens to be vigilant and resilient. Together we waged and won struggle s in the past including the hard won liberation struggle. Together we will win and wither the covid storm.
Together we have all the answers to all our problems.
We are one People but politics and politicians make us to be different people.
It is a patriotic duty to tell anyone to mask up and to not engage in super spreader events.
Fellow Zimbabweans, there is no problem we can’t solve when we are one and United
From ZAMBEZI TO LIMPOPO
One people, One vision, One
Always for Better and greater Zimbabwe
A NEW GREAT ZIMBABWE IS POSSIBLE
GOD BLESS YOU.
GOD BLESS ZIMBABWE.
Nelson Chamisa is the president of the opposition MDC Alliance