Zimbabwe: Complacency: Biggest Danger in Pandemic Fight


Zimbabweans were given some sage advice at the weekend from our World Health Organisation (WHO) resident representative that there was no need to panic over last week's spike in confirmed cases of Covid-19 since almost all of these were being caught in quarantine centres.

Complacency has been creeping in, with many now regarding the Covid-19 risk as minimal if their behaviour is anything to go by.

Zimbabwe remains under lockdown, although the Government has after looking at the risks and the situation on the ground, felt able to relax the lockdown to Level 2.

The fact that so many cases were reported from quarantine centres, where returning citizens and residents are housed during the initial period of their quarantine and testing, shows that this policy is working, and working as it is supposed to by identifying those who are ill before they can infect anyone else.

This is one major policy that we obviously need to retain.

But we are not perfect and obviously some more thought needs to be given to some practices.

For example, yesterday we reported that Beitbridge and Plumtree prisons had each recorded three cases, two inmates and a prison officer.

Details are sketchy, but since the two prisons are on the border and since border jumpers and quarantine escapees have been arrested, there is a continual danger that a high-risk person can be incarcerated.

Obviously the time has come for the health authorities to give the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service extra advice on how to quarantine new prisoners entering the system.

Those locked up before the pandemic are obviously not going to be introducing the virus into the prison population, but there is that danger from new people sentenced to a term of imprisonment or remanded in custody.

So something has to be arranged for the newcomers, where they are kept separate for 21 days.

There have been concerns that quarantine centres could be sources of infection, with sick returnees infecting others.

The health authorities seem to be more aware of this danger, but have to make sure that those they are keeping in the centres understand why there are rules and why they need to cooperate.

But it is in the general population that complacency has taken hold, and WHO country representative Dr Alex Gasasira stressed this could be a problem, and urged everyone to follow the rules and take the required personal steps to minimise their risk, and the risk they could impose on others.

Yesterday, security forces tightened up enforcement and found a lot of people were moving around without any real need to do so.

The growing volumes of traffic have been noticed by everyone.

Since rules have not been changed, sharpened or relaxed for more than three weeks, quite a lot of that growing traffic must be laid at the doors of complacency, not because of relaxed rules.

The fact that at some roadblocks the police went beyond the enforcement of present rules is something that can be sorted out.

Certainly during the day police seemed to be self-correcting the over-enthusiasm among some junior officers, while still taking a more stringent approach to checking motorists and enforcement of rules.

The police need to remember that they are to enforce rules and policies, not make them, and level two lockdown did increase the exemptions, and exempted people have the right to travel in accordance with their duties, although some abuse that privilege to do social travelling.

Even under the initial level four, people could still shop for food and medicine, visit aged relatives, see a doctor. And these exemptions have grown.

Even mask-wearing is flouted more often than observed. Watching off-duty police officers wandering around without wearing masks, and even those resting at roadblocks pulling masks down, does not set a good example.

Like many regulations, the mask rule is not so much to protect the wearer, but to protect others from the wearer.

An ill person, even if they have no symptoms and are unaware that they are ill, is less likely to infect someone else if they wear a mask that catches any viral-laden blobs from their mouth and nose.

In the same way restricting movement tends to mean that social distancing become easier and a sick person is less likely to be wandering around breathing on everyone.

But these sort of rules only produce a less risky environment if everyone follows them, even those who "know" they are not ill.

These rules, where we rely on everyone else acting sensibly and responsibly to protect us, require that we in turn also act properly and play our part in protecting everyone else. We cannot assume that we are well and others are a danger.

We have to include ourselves in the total population.

We need to avoid the unnecessary panic, but at the same time we must avoid thinking that just because we do not have hospitals full of sick people, we can relax.

We have empty hospitals because we have been smart. We need to continue that way.

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