Zimbabwe: Let Us Unite Against COVID-19

opinion

Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in fighting an unprecedented threat to our livelihoods -- the coronavirus. This scourge, which has infected about 1,5 million worldwide and killed over 90 000, demands that, as a nation, we set aside our differences to fight this common enemy.

As of yesterday, the country had 11 confirmed COVID-19 infections, with three deaths. We pay tribute to thousands of healthcare personnel and other essential workers on the frontline, as we confront this public health crisis. They are putting their lives at risk on a daily basis. We applaud their sacrifices.

There will be a huge fallout from this virus. Many will lose their lives. Its impact on local and global economies will be catastrophic. It is critical that we fight misinformation on the virus, as this sparks anxiety and fear. Each one of us has a role to play in this fight. How we recover from this pandemic depends on how we pull together as a nation.

One of the lessons already learnt from this virus is the need to strengthen our woefully underfunded healthcare sector.

The COVID-19 epidemic is a mammoth threat to our nation. As such, we urge people to heed government's call to stay at home during this period.

There are many lessons we can draw from countries that are successfully containing the deadly virus. We need to treat the lockdown seriously and engage in social distancing, as it has been proven that it is the only way to combat its spread.

China on Tuesday reported no deaths for the first time since January when it began to publish its COVID-19 figures. The Asian giant has recorded 81 865 COVID-19 cases and 3 335 deaths.

To contain the spread in Wuhan in China's Hubei province, the maiden epicentre of the epidemic, Chinese authorities imposed unprecedented restrictions on January 23 on travel and ordered the closure of most businesses in the town. It put the city's 11 million people on lockdown. Other cities in the province followed suit as the infections peaked, before gradually declining.

Australia and New Zealand have so far also been successful in largely suppressing the spread of the virus within their countries, in particular, keeping the deaths low. Australia, with a population of 25 million, has just over 6 000 infections and 50 deaths, while New Zealand, a country of five million people, which closed its borders a day before Australia, has around 1 200 infections and only one death from COVID-19.

Both countries enacted strict physical distancing regimes, enforced by the police. Those caught violating these were fined thousands of local dollars. Planes have been grounded, workers have been ordered to stay at home, schools closed and entire industries were put into hibernation.

It is unlawful to be outside without the "reasonable excuse" of essential shopping, medical care, exercise or compassionate grounds.

In both countries, the majority of infections have originated overseas. Community transmission remains low by international standards at less than 10% of all confirmed cases.

Low community transmissions are a result of both countries' early decision and the capability to enforce a total lockdown of borders.

While Zimbabwe's early decision to lockdown the country is commendable, the decisions to relax the lockdown to allow for remittances collection and vegetable markets like Mbare Musika to open for a few hours might render the 21-day shutdown ineffective. As long as people continue to move around freely, we will contain the spread if the disease.

The early response, which is necessary to slow down the infections, needed to be backed with a set of additional strategies to make it effective. There was need for a tracking system for detecting suspicious cases. Effective testing of those who had travelled to high-risk countries should have been a pre-requisite as far back as January, to identify possible asymptomatic cases.

What is even more worrisome is that there seems to be no post-lockdown strategy when it ends on April 19. Will this mean re-opening of public spaces like bars, restaurants, churches, schools, meetings, business, etc?

Prematurely re-opening those spaces might lead to new outbreaks since we are not really sure of the exact numbers of infected people in the country because of under-testing. The country only has 500 testing kits donated by the World Health Organisations. The official figures do not really inspire confidence.

South Africa yesterday announced a two-week extension of its lockdown, and it is imperative we follow suit.

More From: Zimbabwe Independent

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