EDITORIAL COMMENT: If we cooperate, school delay will not be long

17 Jan, 2022 - 00:01 0 Views
EDITORIAL COMMENT: If we cooperate, school delay will not be long

The Herald

With infection rates of Covid-19 still in the hundreds each day, there is no way any responsible person can see any further relaxation of the enhanced level two lockdown.

This includes the rational decision to keep schools closed for at least another three weeks.

No one likes the 7pm closure to the public of all businesses, without exception, and that includes bars, nightclubs, restaurants and take-aways. And the 9pm curfew cramps some people’s social arrangements.

The rest of the lockdown rules are the ones that are the “new normal” as President Mnangagwa suggested at the January clean-up campaign day.

We wear masks when we are in public, we maintain social distancing as far as we can, we wash or sanitise as we enter shops, offices, markets and other enclosed spaces, and we submit to temperature testing fairly frequently as we go about our business.

While the basic lockdown rules have yet to be adjusted since the beginning of Zimbabwe’s waves of infection, the fortnightly extensions make sense, since they allow the Government, advised by health experts, to continually fine-tune the lockdown, especially when it comes to business hours and just who can be admitted to what public places and functions.

Between waves we can be more relaxed about times, although as the national vaccination programme progressed, the Government did use the frequent renewals to have restaurants reopened for sitting customers, and to allow gyms, bars and nightclubs to reopen, although all these social and entertainment concerns were only allowed to admit the vaccinated, so as to minimise risks.

When a new wave strikes there has to be some tightening up, as we have seen during our present fourth wave, with the Government keeping us briefed as to what is going on and explaining why extra measures are needed.

This has worked well in the present fourth wave, which was running strong during the festive season.

Because people knew what was going on, there was a high level of adherence to the rules and advice and that almost certainly contributed to the continued generally falling infection rates, without any sudden surges as people became all excited over the festive season and partied the night away. The maturity of Zimbabweans was noted, and thanked.

In the last two waves, the Government was able to keep all businesses open, even if there were severe evening restrictions on the night-time entertainment and hospitality industry.

This minimised the economic damage of the Covid-19 pandemic, since it has now been found that pushing vaccination rates and maintaining the masking and distancing rules works just as well as closing the retail sectors, so long as Zimbabweans co-operate.

The combination of enforcing rational health measures along with working out how all businesses can continue operating without unduly raising risks has won plaudits from a curious pair: the World Health Organisation and the World Bank.

The degree of effectiveness, largely because Zimbabweans are sensible, can be seen when we start comparing our death rates. The 5 243 Zimbabweans who died from Covid-19 by Saturday is a tragic loss, and we must never underestimate what this means to their families and their friends. But it could have been a lot worse.

The United States has seen 850 000 deaths, and when we adjust for population size that would mean more than 38 000 Zimbabweans dying if we had the same death rates.

Some of the difference is that our population is relatively younger, but a lot is explained by the fact that some might be careless, but they do not see masking and other precautions as some sort of evil imposed by medical doctors backed by politicians, as a large swathe of Americans do.

That sort of difference shows that the high level of voluntary compliance with expert advice does make a significant difference. It keeps more of us alive.

The fourth wave is receding, after sticking on a plateau of 1 500 new infections a day for almost a fortnight after falling from its peak. But the rate of falling daily infections is very slow and by Saturday was still almost 600 a day.

So Acting President Constantino Chiwenga’s decision to postpone the opening of the school term made a lot of sense. That infection rate is very high, compared to the 30 to 40 a day we have seen between waves.

At the present rate of decline in infection rates there is a good chance that in a fortnight they might have fallen low enough to allow that week’s notice of school openings.

But a lot will depend on whether Zimbabweans continue to recognise that we are not out of the fourth wave, that in any case Covid-19 is with us for some time, and so continue to show good sense.

One worrying factor is the death rate.

After peaking, as expected, around three weeks after the peak in infection rates, the death rate has been remarkably sticky and even now almost five weeks past the peak is still around 70 percent of the peak levels.

Unless there is something really long-term about the Omicron variant, this quite possibly means that a fair number of infected people never realised they were infected or only had such minor symptoms for a day or two they never went for the tests.

This is quite possible considering our vaccination rates.

The vaccines used around the world seem to control the severity of Omicron symptoms rather well, but are less effective with Omicron than with other variants of stopping infection in the first place, although they help a great deal to do this.

With over 34 percent of Zimbabweans aged 16 and over now fully vaccinated, including far higher percentages in the groups most at risk of infection, there could well be some hidden infections.

The Government wants to be careful when it looks at schools opening. Everyone agrees this is desirable, especially as so much time was lost in the last two years, but opening during a wave of infections would be foolhardy.

It is now up to all of us to ensure the delay is as short as possible by following the advice of our medical experts, as transmitted by the Government, as fully as we can so infection rates and death rates continue to keep falling.

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