The national lockdown will continue at level four for a further two weeks to February 15 to consolidate and extend the progress already seen in taming and bringing under control the second wave of Covid-19 infections.
Announcing the extension yesterday, Acting President and Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Constantino Chiwenga, said the heightened level of lockdown since January 5 had seen significant progress but there was still need to follow advice of the public health experts to rein in the unprecedented spike in infections and deaths.
In addition, it was likely that new strains and variants were circulating that could be transmitted more easily and were more infectious and samples were now undergoing genomic sequencing to see if these variants were in Zimbabwe, with results to be published as soon as they were available, said the Acting President.
Figures gathered by the Ministry of Health and Child Care show that Zimbabwe saw during January, with most of the month under level four, a surge in infections peaking in the middle of the month and then starting to fall. But the seven-day rolling average, which gives the trend line and evens out short surges and dips in the statistics, was still above the January 1 level at the end of four weeks although only a third of what was seen at the peak.
The number of active cases also followed a similar curve, peaking a day or two later, before starting to fall as recoveries outpaced new infections. But deaths continue to rise, since it takes time from the moment of infection to develop the most severe symptoms, and the rolling seven-day average of daily deaths only started falling at the beginning of this week, around 11 days after the peak in infections.
Not only was the infection rate in relative terms falling, said the Acting President and Health Minister, but the recovery rate had risen from an all-time low of 54 percent to the current 75 percent. But people were still dying.
“Even though the numbers we are losing to the pandemic are falling, we bemoan the fact that Zimbabweans are dying at all. Any death is one death too many. Still, we need to stay the course by upping our vigilance. The war is not yet won,” said Acting President Chiwenga.
While Zimbabwe was on course to taming the new and severe second wave of infection, President Mnangagwa had decided the lockdown had to continue at level four for two more weeks.
“The President fully appreciates the difficulties which come with this extension. Livelihoods are being disrupted yet we must save lives and our nation. We must not lose the momentum, which means: We must mask up, sanitise, maintain social distance, stay at home and, get tested and if positive, self-isolate.”
In the longer term vaccination is seen as the best way to end Covid-19.
“Government will soon be bringing in vaccines against Covid-19. A roll out plan and deployment strategy is being finalised. The nation will be kept informed on all these developments,” said the Acting President.
Zimbabwe’s infection and death rates are now falling with the tight level four lockdown imposed at the beginning of January succeeding, as hoped and expected, in taming the second wave of Covid-19 infections and deaths.
But the second wave of Covid-19 infection was far more severe than the first wave. From our first infections in March to the end of last year there were 14 084 confirmed infections and 369 deaths. In the next 28 days, the first four weeks of January, this more than doubled to 32 646 confirmed infections and 1 160 deaths.
In retrospect that quick decision to move Zimbabwe from level two back to a tightly enforced level four national lockdown at the beginning of the month, and to extend the curfew, saved us from overloading medical facilities.
The decisive switch in lockdown levels also allowed the authorities to manage the inevitable surge of infections from all those who were infected in the festive season to work its way through their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
The death toll in the first four weeks of January was almost 800, but as can be seen from the inadequate controls in some other countries and delays in implementing high level lockdowns, it could have been devastating but for the swift Government action.
But although the trend lines show there is a lot of light at the end of the tunnel for Zimbabweans, they also show we are still having to take special measures to maintain progress.
Average daily infections might be around one third what they were at the mid-month peak, but they are still very high by the standards of last year.
In mid-December, when the first signs of what became the second wave were appearing, Zimbabwe was seeing just 75 cases a day, about a quarter of the present average rate.
Although the rapid re-imposition and enforcement of a level four lockdown has tamed the surge in infections, we are still definitely still in the midst of fighting the second wave, but with significant and sharp reduction in infection rates seen in the last fortnight as we move down from the peak
Part of the success in taming the spike has come from Zimbabweans themselves taking Covid-19 far more seriously, and a large majority now wearing masks in public and following rules on social distancing, but there are still numbers, as police arrest statistics show, who are ready to take a chance.