Zimbabwe Is Not Learning Anything From Italy On Coronavirus.
24 March 2020
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Congested Mbare Musika in Harare.

Italy as of yesterday stood as the most affected country since Covid-19 broke out.

It has 59 138 cases and 5 476 deaths.

What has resulted in Italy being so hard hit when other countries seem to be struggling, but with less intensity?

Lethargy: Indications are that authorities in the European country failed to convince citizens that the novel virus bears a serious threat to life.

Everyone kept going about their business, instead of distancing themselves socially.

The same seems to be the case in Zimbabwe, where alarm bells from authorities appear to be falling on deaf ears.

During the early days of the outbreak in Italy, a politician was pictured drinking an aperitivo in Milan, urging people “not to change our habits”.

This made difficult efforts to effect precautionary measures like social distancing, self-isolation as people continued going about their business, partying in some instances.

The same parallel can be drawn from Zimbabwe where people are still cramping in commuter omnibuses and places like Mupedzanhamo in Mbare are still teeming with human traffic.

Some are being told to disregard the panic that has gripped the country by faith leaders, there is need to take lessons from what happened in Italy.

The politician, Mr Nicola Zingaretti who told Italians to continue living life as usual 10 days later announced to the country that he is positive with Covid-19.

In three weeks, the man had been made to eat his words, literally by this virus.

One sometimes has a feeling that, God forbid, Zimbabwe may be headed towards the same disastrous path as people are still continuing with their workshops in conference rooms, munching on triangle shaped sandwiches and sipping tea from miniature cups at a time when they should be at home; social distancing.

Gradual lockdown: There is still debate among public health professionals and economists on what is the best approach in containing the outbreak.

Health professionals prefer a big bang break in business to contain the spread, while economists prefer a measured response.

Italy, compared to China had a slowed down reaction to Covid-19, people still had parties when they were supposed to be socially distancing.
Now health facilities are overwhelmed, extra doctors had to come from Cuba to assist with the crisis.

One gets the feeling Zimbabwe, if habits and practices do not change, may be headed towards the same route.

Days after President Mnangagwa advised Zimbabweans to take extra caution and ordered that there should not be crowds exceeding 100, people are dicing with death.

Over the last weekend, clubs and pubs in the country had events where they only allowed 100 people in as if those numbers are not grave enough to cause damage.

Professor Hugh Montgomery says Covid-19 is highly infectious.

“This virus is very infectious; every person passes it on to about three people.”

With that number, it means the more there is movement even in constrained numbers, there is a greater risk of infections breaking out from gatherings.

Companies, that are part of the reason why there is high movement and little adherence to social distancing, self-isolation and self-quarantine should start considering reducing their staff.

Capitalist stubbornness is what created the problem in Italy, at a time when countries were closing borders, they were seeking to boost their economy thinking they could capitalise on the gaps other economies would have left.

On January 21, Italy’s culture and tourism minister hosted a Chinese delegation for a concert at the National Academy of Santa Cecilia to inaugurate the year of Italy-China Culture and Tourism.

This was when everyone was limiting events, but they chose to go ahead anyway and the consequences are now telling.
Zimbabwean companies present the same threat as they are not showing signs of scaling down, despite the visible threat.

The informal sector is equally complicit, no one wants to compromise for the greater good.

Othering: Italy had public officials and private citizens believing that Covid-19 was a problem they will only follow from their television screens.

Like the rest of the world, they thought it was a Chinese problem until it landed on their doorstep, albeit violently.
Zimbabwe is suffering the same complacency.

For all its high levels of formal education, there is an alarming number of people in Zimbabwe who are convinced that black people are immune to Covid-19.

Sandra Zampa, the Italian health ministry under-secretary in January said in the early days of Covid-19 in China, it looked like something in a science fiction movie.

This was in January, fast forward to March, China is containing the scourge and Italy is reeling with medical facilities getting overwhelmed.

Zimbabwe for the greater part of the outbreak’s duration has been adopting an attitude similar to the Italians.

Recently, a number of people were up in arms with a lady who had decided to wear a mask in a kombi accusing her of insinuating that they are infected.

Such stubborn ignorance may have dire consequences on the country.

Individual spreading: Those who would have been found to be positive or under observation sometimes put people at risk by not adhering to instructions they would have been given.

When people are in doubt, they should self-isolate, but that is rarely the case with some individuals who continue with their normal routines.

Italy had a man who went gallivanting even when he had severe symptoms.

The 38-year-old man from Codogno had severe flu, but continued with his routines, creating danger for everyone he got in touch with.

He even declined to be hospitalised.

Such behaviour, although circumstances are different, can be seen in Zimbabwe where people are nursing colds, instead of getting checked for Covid-19.

Some will engage authorities when they have done a great deal of spreading, putting others at risk.

Fake news and misinformation

In fighting any crisis, misinformation is one of the biggest challenges any country can face, Italy was not spared in this regard.

A lot of dubious knowledge circulated which was detrimental to efforts by health authorities.
Some tried local remedies.

In Zimbabwe the case is the same, there are those who are prescribing concoctions to each other which include cloves of garlic, ginger and steaming, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is no known cure.

Some are taking pills like ibuprofen, despite advise against their consumption due to the fact that they thin one’s blood.

All this information has not had an adverse effect on a patient, but has done damage to public perception as some believe they can jog off the virus, instead of seeking medical help.

If Zimbabwe is to win the uphill battle that awaits it, the flow of accurate information has to be given due attention.

Knowledge Transfer Africa chief executive officer Charles Dhewa, who interacts with farmers on a daily basis at Mbare Musika, said there is need for visibility on the part of official communication to curb panic on the generality of the population, especially farmers.

Farmers are a population of interest as they operate in crowded markets.

“Our farmers tend to rely on social media and rumour as sources of news.

“Although the Ministry of Health and Child Care gives updates on Covid-19 as the official mouthpiece, there is need for other Government ministries, like Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services and Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement to deploy officials to informal hubs like Mbare Musika, Mbare Produce Market, Mupedzanhamo, Siyaso, Sakubva and Glen View 8 Complex to see what is happening on the ground and enlighten people on preventive measures and Covid-19 impacts,” Dhewa said.

There is also need to fumigate the areas and provide sanitisers, he added.

On the issue of maintaining social distance and staying indoors to arrest the spread of the Covid-19, Dhewa averred that such measures are imported and cannot possibly have the same effect since the Zimbabwean economy is different from Western ones.

There is need to learn from mistakes made by other countries and in this case, Italy can be a case study.