Leroy Dzenga and Elliot Ziwira
As plans to resume intercity bus services in safety are worked out, health authorities have adopted WHO guidelines on when to confirm patient recovery and Covid-19 patients will now be confirmed without further testing as recovered 13 days after the onset of symptoms.
Those who show no symptoms will be confirmed as recovered 10 days after a positive test. The new recommendation avoids the problem of tests that continue giving a positive result for patients who are better and non-infectious.
The changes come as 18 new cases were confirmed yesterday, bringing the total to 734 and recoveries to 197 with nine deaths.
The latest death was a 54-year-old Bulawayo man with no travel history, but with other medical problems. All but two of the new cases were among returnees.
Intercity public transport services were suspended under the lockdown on March 30 as part of moves to help isolate any outbreaks of Covid-19, but more people now need to travel for good reasons and not all have access to cars; motorists can travel under special individual permission.
Speaking after a Covid-19 Inter-Ministerial Taskforce meeting in Harare yesterday, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Senator Monica Mutsvangwa said the taskforce had considered the need for resuming intercity and inter-provincial travel but wanted to be guided by expert advice on how to do this safely.
“Government recognises the current challenges being experienced by commuters to reach different destinations to attend to their essential needs. The taskforce has, therefore, resolved to scientifically consider a measured and responsible process of resuming intercity travel.
“This will be announced next week after interrogation of the request by the appropriate sub-committee.”
There has been growing need for intercity travel, often for good reasons, with truck drivers and pirate operators taking advantage by providing unsafe travel. Bus companies have also appealed for the resumption on economic grounds.
But Minister Mutsvangwa said there was need to play a balancing act between keeping the economy alive and saving lives.
The problem of confirming when a Covid-19 patient is recovered and non-infectious has been under consideration by the World Health Organisation for some time as its expert teams get to know more about the virus during the pandemic.
Asymptomatic Covid-19 patients could now return to their families after clearance by health officials 10 days after the positive test, since evidence had been mounting that a patient without symptoms, while testing positive for the virus, could not transmit the virus.
The taskforce was adopting new WHO recommendations.
Zimbabwe had been following the earlier WHO recommendation to confirm clearance of the virus, and thus allow discharge from isolation, which required a patient to be clinically recovered, that is show no symptoms, and to have two negative PCR results on samples taken at least 24 hours apart.
Under the new approach, WHO sees recovery for patients who showed symptoms at 10 days after symptoms onset, plus at least three additional days without symptoms (including without fever and without respiratory symptoms).
For asymptomatic cases, that is patients who test positive but show no symptoms, recovery could be confirmed 10 days after the initial positive test for Covid-19
Explaining the changes the chief coordinator of the National Response to the Covid-19 pandemic Dr Agnes Mahomva said this would help solve the mystery of cases that continued to generate positive test results for long periods.
“If you are asymptomatic but you are positive, which is a large percentage of people we are testing as returning residents, you can be discharged after 10 days without retesting as long as symptoms don’t show,” said Dr Mahomva.
Those who show symptoms and recover will be discharged after 10 days since the symptoms first showed plus an additional three days. But during these 13 days the patients had to continue to be isolated.
She said new evidence was showing that asymptomatic cases could not spread Covid-19.
“This is fantastic because we have had patients who are not patients. They are just patients by virtue of being positive but they have been like that for a long time.
“The elements of the virus, the ribonucleic acid, that remains in them is low. It is not viable to be transmitted to others,” said Dr Mahomva.
Dr Mahomva, however, warned that those who are released from isolation and their families had to continue to exercise caution.