CABINET is set to decide tomorrow on the fate of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) and Independence Day celebrations at a time the leadership of host city for both events, Bulawayo, has called for a suspension of all public gatherings amid Covid-19 threats.
In his state of the nation address last night, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country had recorded 61 Covid-19 positive cases and had decided to close 32 of its 72 ports of entry consisting of land, air and sea ports. He said schools will close on Wednesday until the end of Easter and that visits to prisons had immediately been suspended.
He said after consulting widely they had imposed a travel ban on those coming from high risk countries — Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and China as from 18 March.
One case had been confirmed in Eswatini. On Saturday, Namibia cancelled independence celebrations slated for March 21 following confirmation of two cases of Covid-19 in that country. The country also suspended in and outbound travel from Ethiopia, Germany and Qatar with immediate effect.
Zimbabwe has no confirmed cases of Covid-19 yet, although more than 8 700 people who entered the country entry as of last Friday have been placed under surveillance for the virus. So far, Government has cancelled a high-level conference organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that was scheduled for Victoria Falls later this month.
On Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) postponed the 57th Committee of Sadc Stock Exchange (CoSSE) meeting and Second Brokers’ Networking Session that was scheduled for this week in Victoria Falls due to coronavirus fears.
Speaking in a telephone interview yesterday, Bulawayo Mayor Solomon Mguni said while the upcoming Independence Day celebrations and ZITF were important for the city and the country as a whole, the health of citizens had to take precedence. He said the country has a lot to learn from countries such as the United States, China, and Italy which are on lockdown to stem Covid-19.
“It’s a very risky situation to have such high people traffic in the city at such a time. Personally, I think that all big gatherings must be suspended for at least two months. City of Bulawayo should suspend all public national gatherings, starting with the 2020 independence celebrations and ZITF 2020 until we are sure that our people are safe from Covid-19. This is my opinion. As people we must debate around this thing and ensure that we reach the safest conclusion,” said the mayor.
He said the country must take precautionary measures and learn from countries that had suspended public meetings as a preventive measure against Covid-19.
“If you look at global trends, they are suspending all of these activities maybe for a month or two as they observe. If we are not fully equipped to deal with this pandemic, why don’t we suspend these activities maybe until end of May. It’s my opinion. I have shared my view so that the people may debate around that thing. Look at China, Italy, Germany, they are suspending these things and have shut down. ZITF is the riskiest because you have people coming from all corners of the globe, including the hotspots, so it may be safer to take extreme measures for now,” said the mayor.
He said BCC was still awaiting a report from the city’s Health Services Department for advice on the way forward and assessment of the city’s preparedness to host the ZITF and independence celebrations in light of the Covid-19 threat. In an interview yesterday, the Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Obadiah Moyo said a decision would be made tomorrow on Bulawayo’s hosting of independence celebrations and ZITF.
“Let’s wait until Tuesday that is the time when a decision will be made at the higher level on the hosting of the big events. Until then, members of the public must continue to heed calls from the ministry to adhere to high standards of hygiene, avoid unnecessary travel, stay safe, and report to health facilities if not feeling well,” he said.
As of last Friday, the Health Ministry said more than 8 700 people who entered the country through the country’s ports of entry had been placed under surveillance for Covid-19.
In a statement, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Dr Agnes Mahomva said the travellers will be continuously monitored for up to 21 days as per protocol.
She assured the nation that despite the growing number of people under surveillance no positive cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the country.
Dr Mahomva said the two suspected cases of coronavirus which were reported at Mpilo Central Hospital and the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) last week came out negative as they did not meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of a suspected case. Two Zimbabwean women who returned to Bulawayo via South Africa were last week taken to Mpilo and UBH with flu-like symptoms.
Dr Mahomva said at both hospitals the Covid-19 Rapid Response team reacted swiftly to the cases.
“The Ministry would like to report a 39-year-old female patient who was presented to United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) with a history of chest pain and fever. On presentation she declared that she suspected that she had Covid-19 disease. The Covid-19 Rapid Response team immediately went to assess her and found that she did not meet the WHO case definition of a suspected case,” she said.
“A female adult who travelled from United Arab Emirates on March 4 on route to Zimbabwe via South Africa reported contact with someone with a flu-like illness in South Africa. She arrived in Zimbabwe on March 10 and was presented to Mpilo Central Hospital with a flu-like illness on Thursday last week. Upon assessment she did not meet the WHO case definition of a suspected case.”
Dr Mahomva said the Health Ministry continues to strengthen surveillance at all ports of entry in the country in line with the implementation of the National Preparedness and Response Plan.
The United Kingdom has given the country protective kits that include masks, goggles among others worth £100 000. The UK is also spending £1,7 million on the construction of a National Response Centre which is situated at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare that will be completed within two weeks.
On Wednesday last week, the Global Fund said it will avail US$25 million to help Zimbabwe fight Covid-19 and the money will be used for among others emergency response preparations at infectious diseases hospitals, including at Bulawayo’s Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital.