Experts warn of surge in cases as laxity creeps in

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke

Health Reporter

Public health experts see Covid-19 infections rising much higher than necessary at the peak of the third wave if many Zimbabweans continue to ignore World Health Organisation protocols and the measures put in place by Government to contain the spread of infection.

Zimbabwe reported 66 deaths from Covid-19 yesterday, plus another 20 from the previous six days that had not been reported before, but more positively administered a record 53 222 doses of vaccine and went past the 1 million mark for first doses.

The daily situation report from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare recorded 2 491 new cases, fewer than in each of the previous three days, but saw deaths climb to 86 although 20 of the 27 Harare deaths had occurred between Friday last week and Wednesday but had not been reported before putting the number who dies yesterday at 66.

But even with the adjustment, the 66 was the highest daily toll in the third wave and the 86 was the highest daily report ever, beating the 70 reported on January 24 at the height of the second wave.

On the vaccination side there has been a major push this week with new daily records being set. Yesterday for the first time the number of doses jabbed in a day went over 50 000 with 47 056 first doses and 5 716 second doses. This took the number of first doses to 1 036 252 and the number of second doses, and so fully vaccinated Zimbabweans, to 630 610.

On Tuesday, President Mnangagwa expressed concern over the rise in new cases, and he was quite clear that complacency was largely responsible for the rise in new cases, and urged citizens not to drop guard.

The arrival in Zimbabwe of the Delta variant, now responsible for 80 percent of cases, was a factor since it was more transmissible and so made the need for universal and rigid adherence to the rules more necessary.

Said the President: “The recent surge in cases and deaths is a reminder that we need to do more. Government had anticipated that the lockdown measures would assist in reducing the spread in infections, and ultimately to halt this surge. 

“Instead, the current data are indicating a worrisome trend. Cases and deaths are continuing to increase at an alarming rate.”

A quick assessment pointed out that the jump in cases was largely a result of complacency by communities in adhering to prevention measures, including the enhanced and general lockdown rules and the basic WHO protocols such as proper wearing of masks, washing of hands and social distancing.

As a result, he said, the country needed more compliance with the rules, harder enforcement of the regulations, and an acceleration in the vaccination programme. 

Community Working Group on Health executive director Mr Itai Rusike said the Government had played its part, especially in increasing the rate of vaccine imports, and implored every citizen to play their part.

“Of late we have observed with extreme concern and disbelief the level of complacency and generally poor adherence to the Level 4 lockdown restrictions. It is disheartening to see that the tighter lockdown regulations announced by the Government are only on paper as communities are operating normally oblivious of the threat of the third wave,” he said. 

Mr Rusike said non-adherence to Covid-19 regulations and WHO recommended guidelines had become more pronounced in public spaces such as markets, liquor selling points, funerals and bus terminuses with many in the high density suburbs and in swathes of the informal sector throwing caution to the wind.

Given the rising number of Covid-19 cases, said Mr Rusike, it was imperative for the Government to enforce the restrictions without fear or favour while  also carrying out sustained Covid-19 literacy and awareness campaigns on the benefits of embracing the national vaccination programme to defeat the pandemic. 

Chairman of the Mashonaland Faculty of the College of Primary Health Care Physicians of Zimbabwe Dr Enock Mayida said: “People are not wearing masks properly as recommended and they are not regularly sanitising hands or washing them with water and soap and observing physical distancing issues.”

Going forward, said Dr Mayida, medical outreach programmes in suburbs, towns, growth points and market areas were needed to continuously sensitise the public on Covid-19 issues.

“The programmes need to focus on changing peoples’ mind-set and personal attitudes regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“There is also need to have vaccination centres in these areas to deal with issues of down time as well as continuous monitoring and supervision regarding adherence to these measures at all public places and transportation points,” said Dr Mayida.

Enforcement of the lockdown measures needed more activity from health care workers and police, but should be more persuasive than punitive.

“Vaccination of the general public to achieve herd immunity remains our best bet to control rising infections and future waves of Covid-19,” he added.

The surge in cases has been continuing with 11 751 cases recorded last week alone compared to 8 042 cases reported the previous week.

Mashonaland West remains the worst affected province with 2 107 cases in the last week but the third wave is spreading into other provinces with Harare Metropolitan hitting a weekly total of 1 894, Mashonaland East 1 658, Mashonaland Central with 1 142 and Midlands with 1 058.

On Tuesday, Information Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, said the surge in cases had led to an increase in demand for hospital beds, hence Government was expediting the full capacitation of isolation and treatment centres throughout the country.

On Wednesday there were 883 hospitalised cases with 114 of those being new admissions on that day. Of these 261 were asymptomatic but in hospital for other reasons or because they were at particular risk, 516 were mild to moderate, 66 patients showed severe symptoms and 40 were in intensive care units.

With 24 996 active cases on that day, that is people recorded as infected but not yet regarded as being fully cured, the vast majority of infected Zimbabweans are coping at home and following the advice of medical staff over rest and the like as they battle with the effects of a nasty dose of flu.

Since the first case of Covid-19 was detected last year in March, Zimbabwe has recorded 76 381 confirmed infections, with 49 053 recoveries and 2 332 deaths as of Wednesday. Most infections have been seen in the quite short periods of the first, second and third waves with two periods of several months when infection rates were much lower.

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