By Phyllis Mbanje/Arnold Fandiso/Miriam Mangwaya/Rex Mphisa
Health experts yesterday warned that the third wave of COVID-19 had already hit the country as evidenced by the surge in new infections in the past few weeks, a situation which poses a huge challenge to the already ailing public healthcare system.
Stakeholders in the health sector told NewsDay that a new wave of COVID-19 has been spreading quietly in communities since the Easter holidays when schools recorded a spike in infections.
From an average of around 22 cases on March 30, the Health ministry’s daily updates have indicated that this has ballooned to 79 cases and with the cases continuing to rise.
To date, the country has recorded 37 859 cases and 1 553 deaths.
“The third wave is unfortunately here and is building up faster than we can imagine,” said Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive Solwayo Ngwenya.
“While it may seem like it is under control, the virus is spreading at an alarming rate in communities that have become complacent and no longer adhere to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines,” Ngwenya said.
He said the figures might even be more than what is being reported because of the country’s failure to test extensively.
“The situation in schools is difficult. If we wait for that month when schools close, the infection and viral spread will be out of control. If indeed there are infections, they should close down the schools. However, the major worry is that the students will take the virus into the community,” he said.
The Primary and Secondary Education ministry on Monday demanded that students at learning institutions should undergo daily screening for the virus.
But Ngwenya insisted that this would be difficult to enforce.
“It is not achievable to try and contain the situation within schools. Schools are always going to be super spreaders, government was warned. They will contribute a lot to the third wave. We will not be able to cope with a massive health emergency of this pandemic,” he said.
Harare City Council’s health services director Prosper Chonzi in a video on posted on Facebook yesterday warned of a health emergency as winter approaches.
“We are anticipating a third wave as we are going into winter and we are anticipating that we get more and more cases coming. The situation might look as if everything is back to normal, but we are still having cases of COVID-19 at our units and in schools,” he said.
“The vaccination programme rollout has started in earnest and we are happy that Harare is contributing more than 60% of the national figures as far as vaccination is confirmed, but the numbers are still not where we want them to be.
“The good thing about the vaccine is that if you get infected and you receive your two doses of the vaccine, the chances of you getting hospitalised are very few as you will also not develop severe diseases,” Chonzi added.
As a result of the looming new variants of the deadly virus, the United Nations (UN) yesterday urged nations to adopt preventive measures against COVID-19 as the pandemic was still far from over.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres in a tweet said countries worldwide had failed to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic as evidenced by an increase in the number of new infections and deaths.
“So far, the global response to COVID-19 is a test we have failed. And the crisis is far from over. We need to heed the lessons now to prevent successive waves of infection, avoid a lengthy global recession and get back on track to fulfil the global goals,” he said.
Local health experts said global statistics indicated that the virus was still vicious.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa said: “Even if they are vaccinated, people still need to adhere to WHO guidelines of wearing masks, sanitising and social distancing. Most importantly, we need to avoid gatherings. Gatherings risk new infection and development of new variants.”
Speaking from Beitbridge yesterday after a tour of vaccination centres in the country, principal director in the Health ministry, Maxwell Hove said his ministry would recommend the opening of border posts to President Emmerson Mnangagwa only if 23 000 or more residents in the border town get vaccinated.
Hove told journalists that only 2 000 people in Beitbridge had so far been vaccinated, with most frontline workers yet to get the jab.
“We will recommend that the border be opened when we are sure all workers have been vaccinated. We must all be aware of the spread of the disease, which is through travelling. The borders must be safe first,” Hove said.
Zimbabwe has kept its borders closed due to COVID-19, although its neighbours Botswana and South Africa have since opened theirs.
“We are being cautious of the third wave, having learnt our lesson from the second which claimed many lives as you are all aware,” Hove said.
The country aims to inoculate 60% of its population which is approximately 10 million people to achieve herd immunity. News Day