EDITORIAL COMMENT: Covid-19 guard needs to be maintained

23 Jun, 2022 - 00:06 0 Views
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Covid-19 guard needs to be maintained

The Herald

The infection rates of Covid-19 have fallen, but they have not gone away with just under 100 new infections a day and 17 deaths in the past week, so Cabinet’s double decision to end the curfew, but double down on other measures reflects the reality.

There will be a fair number of Zimbabweans who will notice the end of the curfew, but who will not read beyond that welcome news and remain masked in public, keep themselves clean and be careful in crowds. They need to.

And the enthusiasm for vaccination has diminished again, with only 55,8 percent of those aged 12 and over now having had their first shot and 41 percent their second. Even the keen types, those with the booster as well, still only amount to 7,6 percent of the 12s and over, although admittedly 1,5 million double-dosed still have to complete their six months.

In one sense the lifting of the curfew and the decision to allow the entertainment businesses to remain open to 3am if their normal licensing and permissions allow this is simply reflecting the reality on the ground. 

For a start the numbers wandering around late at night or in the early hours of the morning are not that many. So a lot of social distancing is automatic. 

Although those who have to be out at these hours sometimes seems a large number in fact they are a small minority as most people need to sleep at this time, and winter does tend to be cold at those times and thus social strolling is unlikely.

So the risks of lifting the curfew are small. This is something which we have discovered as we continually fine-tune our containment measures, along with other measures we have found do not contribute much, but we can then concentrate on those measures that do make a difference.

The other factor was that, with the modest numbers breaking the curfews, these people were difficult to detect.

Unless half the police force was switched to night shift the curfew was almost impossible to enforce and those keen on evading it have usually found a way round. 

Even car drivers would go out in non-curfew hours, find out where the roadblocks and check point were, and then figure out a route home that missed these.

And bars and the like would carefully shutter the front doors and equally carefully open the back and side doors and then just suggest patrons kept the noise down.

Even in urban areas the local authorities were helpful for curfew evaders by letting the street lighting vanish over the past two decades.

The police, mind you, still need to be active at night, but can be concentrating on deterring thieves and other criminals and making sure that arguments in the late night drinking spots do not escalate into violence. 

They no longer have to watch out for otherwise law-abiding people skulking round dark corners.

Zimbabwe has done well since Covid-19 arrived in the country a little over two years ago. We moved fast in that first wave when no one was protected and moved equally fast in each subsequent wave, and that is why our total death toll from Covid-19 is 5 541, in the same region as our death toll from road accidents in the same period.

That was a major achievement, along with our national vaccination programme that despite some reluctance has seen more than 55 percent of those aged 12 and over with some protection and the continual trickle of a few thousand a day still lining up to get into the programme. 

We bought the vaccines and syringes, we mobilised the medical staff and we accelerated the rehabilitation of health centres and upgraded facilities, things we needed to do anyway and which are of lasting benefit.

But we still need to remember that Covid-19 is around. While less than 100 new patients are being added to the recorded lists each day, the death rate suggests that more have symptoms so mild that they are not bothering to seek medical attention and so are not entering the statistics.

While the infection statistics do require co-operation, especially from those who are not very ill or even not showing any symptoms, the death statistics will be very accurate because of that policy that any slightly suspicious death requires a test, and you cannot be buried in Zimbabwe without the clearance certificate.

Of course there will be deaths where Covid-19 is only one of the complications and where some other infection, from “ordinary” flu onwards, or some chronic condition is a major factor. 

But on the other hand there is no need to add to the load your body is already fighting and so it makes sense to be checked if you are ill, especially with flu-like symptoms.

But this is just one of the many ways we need to be careful. The lockdown has existed ever since the first person was diagnosed. All the changes is that sometimes measures are relaxed and sometimes they have to be tightened.

Like many other public health infections, the battle against Covid-19 requires everyone to follow the rules, not just the naturally careful. Those who care are at risk from those who don’t so everyone needs to care.

So the other half of the Cabinet decision this week is important, doubling down on other containment measures. 

For a start this means we all need to take mask wearing in public seriously; and that seems to have generated lower infection rates for “ordinary” colds and flu. 

And masking is particularly important when we in crowds, especially in winter when bus windows and the like are closed.

We all need to wash or sanitise frequently, a good idea even in the best of times; we suspect that the rate of diarrhoeal infections is greatly reduced by the better hygiene, a useful extra benefit.

The now routine temperature testing at shop doors, insistence on customers being masked and the sanitising is being maintained, and enforced. 

Generally Zimbabwe is not following the weird programmes of some western countries that want to reduce routine precautions for ideological reasons. 

Our Covid-19 death rates might be around our road death rates, but we certainly still want people to drive properly and want pedestrians to take care. Why add to the risks?

Living with Covid-19 might well be a long term prospect. Zimbabwe has now buckled down to this with negligible disruption, but assuming most people will take the minimum precautions. And we still need to get everyone vaccinated. 

The Government, basing the national response on decent medical advice, has the mix right and since this is public health we need to follow the guidelines.

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