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Covid 19: Complacency can change everything

04 Jul, 2020 - 02:07 0 Views
Covid 19: Complacency can change everything A commuter wearing a face mask awaits transport in the central business district of Harare on June 2. Photographer: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images

The Herald

Zimbabwe has, so far, escaped the worst of the global Covid-19 pandemic although complacency or over-relaxation of preventative measures could change that in a matter of days.

By Friday 3 July, the end of the 14th week of the lockdown, Zimbabwe had 625 confirmed cases, an overwhelming majority among returning citizens and residents in formal quarantine centres but with a worrying increase in community local infections in the 14th week.

Of these seven have died, but 176 have been confirmed as recovered and it is likely that several more of those infected before mid-June have also recovered but still need to formally get tested to confirm this.

Harare leads the provincial totals with 226 of the infections, and Bulawayo is second with 72.

The two major urban areas account for almost half of all confirmed infections largely because city people are more likely to have been returning residents and because these returnees are whenever possible held in quarantine as near to their homes as possible.

But big cities are also, from the experience in other countries, the most likely places where community infections can occur because of the large crowds and because people tend to live and work close together.

Zimbabwe has so far escaped high levels of infection, despite being a neighbour of the regional epicentre in South Africa, where 168 061 people have been confirmed as infected with 2 844 dying, because of swift action very early by the Government.

These early measures saw cross border human traffic banned, except for drivers of cargo trucks and trains, compulsory screening in an approved centre for all returning residents, and a lockdown imposed when the numbers of infected were still below 100.

If we had delayed by even a week it is likely that the infection would have “gone wild”.

The easing of the lockdown has been accompanied by strict conditions, such as compulsory wearing of face masks and social distancing requirements, although enforcement of these measures can be variable.

The health authorities have continually stressed that complacency could reverse the relative safety most Zimbabweans have found, and reverse it swiftly.

Ordinary face masks do not grant much protection to wearers, but protect those who wearers come into contact with.

This means everyone has to wear them, especially in crowded areas, if there is to be any benefit.

Social distancing is also something everyone has to do to work.

Even if you keep back from the person in front of you, it is not much use if that person crowds the next one in line and if the person behind you is breathing all over you.

Like most countries Zimbabwe would like to test more people than it is at present able to.

Test kits, despite huge increases in manufacturing capacity, are still in global short supply and Zimbabwe’s low infection and death rates mean that we are not in the highest priority groups.

This has seen delays in the mass screening of those returning to work, and delays in the confirming tests and in the tests to confirm recoveries.

Since returnees have the highest risk of infection, priority in testing has been given to that group along with frontline medical staff.

Zimbabwe has used the lockdown and the slow infection rate to prepare for a far worse situation.

Isolation wards have been renovated or created across the country and the equipping of the critical care units has proceeded steadily to cope with the small minority of infected people who need special nursing care.

Zimbabwe has been building up stocks of the vital ventilators, from the handful in March to the several dozen now installed in critical care units.

Covid-19 hits different people in various ways. More than 80 percent of those infected can recover at home, so long as they have a home, with the next group needing some nursing care but not necessary critical care. But around 5 percent of sick people need the specialist nursing care of a critical care unit.

Out of the potential tragedy, there have been many gains. Zimbabwe produces all its own sanitiser, using the same ethanol that is mixed with our petrol plus a couple of other chemicals that can be made locally very easily.

Most of the masks on the street were made locally, from factories right down to dressmakers sitting at home. Even the more advanced masks for medical staff are now increasingly locally made.

This allows foreign donors to concentrate on the things we cannot make but need.

The coming together of the private and public sectors, frequently praised by President Mnangagwa, has created and cemented relationships that are likely to accelerate Zimbabwe’s progress as we move out of Covid-19.

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