By A Correspondent- Vice President Constantino Chiwenga yesterday urged citizens not to panic in the wake of the new deadly COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.529, detected in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana, saying government had put in place adequate measures including tight border controls to contain the virus.
Addressing a Health Professions Authority congress in Harare, Chiwenga, who doubles up as Health minister said: “The ministry would also want to assure the nation that there is no need to panic as the above measures are in place and will mitigate against any variant. Investigations on the significance of this and other characteristics are being done and the public will be notified as information is made available.
“New samples will be collected for genomic sequencing surveillance from among the cases being detected at points of entry and from clusters. Strict monitoring of movements at points of entry is being intensified to minimise the introduction of this new variant into the country.”
His statement came as the United Kingdom has red-listed Zimbabwe, Botswana, eSwatini, Namibia and South Africa as hotspots and banned flights to and from the southern African countries for fear of contracting the killer virus.
Chief co-ordinator of the COVID-19 taskforce Agnes Mahomva said the country was prepared for the worst. “The new variant is one of the worst but we are prepared for it, we have pushed for public vaccination and we had a good response. We are very strategic in terms of our work so we continue to urge the public not to panic,” she said.
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive Solwayo Ngwenya urged Zimbabweans to avoid unnecessary travel during the festive season.
“The new variant is possibly a game-changer in terms of human lives lost. We have to be at high alert and avoid unnecessary travel during the festive season and adhere to COVID-19 guidelines and protocols,” Ngwenya said.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike expressed concern that the new variant could spread faster during the festive season as people travel to various places.
“With low numbers of people getting vaccinated and the porous land borders, a lot of people from South Africa can sneak into the country without having been properly screened there putting the health and safety of their relatives and friends at risk of being infected,” Rusike said.
“We need to tighten surveillance and screening at our borders and airports and even take some draconian preventive measures just like what the UK has just done by temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, including the surrounding countries, or else the fourth wave will hit us hard and further paralyse our broken public health delivery system,” he added.
Early this year, a spike in COVID-19 cases and fatalities were blamed on the country’s failure to totally shut down borders during the festive season.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa also expressed concern over complacency by Zimbabweans.
“This is unfortunate with the complacency that is being shown by Zimbabweans and other citizens in Southern Africa is going to be disastrous,” Marisa said.
Meanwhile, United Nations Aids country director Sophia Mukasa has warned the country to be ready to tackle future pandemics by increasing health funding.
“The world is threatened by an expanding list of pandemics, as we enter a third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The same laws, policies and strong people-centered health services needed to end Aids, will also help the world overcome COVID-19,” Sophia told NewsDay Weekender during the signing ceremony of a Paris Declaration of the Fast Cities initiative by the City of Bulawayo.