Mukudzei Chingwere and George Maponga Herald Reporters
As it was confirmed that Zimbabwe is now in the midst of the fourth Covid-19 wave fuelled by the Omicron variant, details were given yesterday of how the new compulsory 10-day quarantine for all returning residents and visitors will work.
Those away for less than 14 days will be able to quarantine at home, if an inspection finds their home suitable, while those away for more than 14 days will have to quarantine at a public or private facility at their own expense. Both groups will be given a PCR test on arrival, regardless of whether they were tested outside the country, and both groups will have a second PCR test after five days.
At the same time police announced that enforcement of all lockdown regulations, new and old, was being stepped up. Check points will ensure compliance with the curfew, and bars and night clubs are being checked to ensure only the fully vaccinated are let in, and all businesses, including these entertainment businesses, being checked to ensure the 7pm closing time.
Confirming the arrival of the fourth wave in Zimbabwe and the presence of the Omicron variant, Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care Constantino Chiwenga said genome sequence of samples from Masvingo and other places had confirmed the presence of Omicron variant in Zimbabwe and said vaccination backed by compliance with public health measures was the only way of dealing with the wave.
Speaking during the clean up of the open space near Masvingo Hospital, the Vice President said Zimbabweans must adhere to Covid-19 rules and regulations to contain the fourth wave and those who had not been vaccinated should get jabbed promptly.
VP Chiwenga cautioned Zimbabweans against complacency as the new Omicron variant was now in the country.
Tests on specimens collected from positive students from Masvingo Teacher’s College showed the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
“Of late, we have been witnessing a lot of complacency with regards to abiding by Covid-19 safety protocols set by WHO and the Government. Individuals are not paying attention to these safety protocols but we need to change from that behaviour because if we are to survive this battle,” he said.
“The recent spike in Covid-19 cases since the beginning of this month shows that we are now in the fourth wave and in fact we have just finished genomic sequencing and as I speak here in Masvingo, we have already established that their new Omicron variant is here from the genomic sequencing done on specimens collected from positive students the Masvingo Teacher’s College.”
The VP said the only way to win the war against the Covid-19 pandemic was to get jabbed.
Government was considering extending vaccination to cover those aged from 12 years as the nation continued to extend vaccination. Other countries have been vaccinating ever younger children as vaccines are proved safe, with Zimbabwe taking the first step recently when Sinovac was certified as safe for those aged 16 and above.
Government would continue to source more vaccines the Vice President said although stocks at present are high and enough for present mass vaccination campaigns.
Going into details of the new measures to contain infection, the Ministry of Health and Child Care updated travel guidelines following the gazetting of the previously announced Statutory Instrument 267 of 2021, so all returning residents and visitors are now having PCR tests on arrival, even if they bring a PCR test result from elsewhere.
Even those found to be negative must be quarantined at their own cost for 10 days, with a second PCR test after five days and if that is positive then they will be isolated.
Those outside the country for more than 14 days can be quarantined for their 10 days at a designated public or private Covid-19 quarantine facility at their own cost, while those that have been outside for less than 14 days may be allowed to self-quarantine at their home, so long as the home passes an inspection.
“Diplomats, VIPs and VVIPs visiting the country on official Government business will be handled through usual diplomatic channels.
The control measures put in place by the Government quickly had the endorsement of WHO, and Zimbabwe’s country representative Dr Alex Gasasira also had some words of advice.
“We all have to remember that Covid-19 is still with us, even though the country has gone through a period where there were very few cases. Because of the risk we have of a more efficient strain, more transmissible variant, we all have to redouble our efforts in preventative measures.”
He noted that after past waves compliance by individuals with health measures went down and that triggered a new wave. “The best way we can guard against the more efficient strain is by redoubling our efforts. We also have the opportunity of the Covid-19 vaccination. Those who have not been vaccinated get vaccinated.”
Dr Gasasira said the WHO does not recommend international travel restrictions, saying screening was the best way forward while movements had to be minimised within the country.
Meanwhile, police have warned the public against disregarding the lockdown restrictions, both those already in place and the tightening up announced by President Mnangagwa and gazetted this week, giving the police the legal authority to act.
In a statement yesterday, police said they had intensified their operations to ensure compliance adding that anyone flouting laid down regulations would be arrested and prosecuted.
The curfew now starts at 9pm and ends at 6am, while business hours remain from 7am to 7pm but these will be enforced. People are also required to follow laid down guidelines on social gatherings, masking and sanitising while only the fully vaccinated will be allowed into restaurants and bars.
All Covid-19 related funerals must be strictly supervised by the Ministry of Health and Child Care and environmental health officers and technicians.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police had intensified patrols to ensure compliance by members of the public to curb the spread of the pandemic.
He reminded the public that only those in designated essential services were allowed to move outside their homes during curfew hours and that all social functions had to end before 9pm when the curfew kicked in.
He said shops, restaurants and bars should ensure they close by pm as directed with police conducting checks, patrols and monitoring countrywide to ensure adherence to Covid-19 protocols.
Police will also be checking that nightclubs and bars admit only the fully vaccinated and those who let in the unvaccinated will be brought to book and no excuse will be entertained .
The police are also stepping up operations to stop people trying to go out of come into Zimbabwe without going through a border post and following laid down protocols.
In his visit to Masvingo Vice President Chiwenga was in the company of senior Government officials including Agriculture, Lands,Water,Fisheries and Rural Development Minister Dr Anxious Masuka,Masvingo Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution Ezra Chadzamira and EMA officials among others.
Earlier on the VP had first led the lines in picking up litter from an open space near the Masvingo industrial area to mark their national clean up campaign programme.
He toured Stable Plastics, a company in the industrial area that recycles plastic waste and manufactures irrigation and mining pipes using plastic waste.
VP Chiwenga challenged Zimbabweans to maintain high levels of cleanliness saying the national clean up campaign had gone a long way in promoting a culture of cleanliness Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans were supposed to stop littering the environment as some of the garbage comprised materials harmful to the environment, especially non-biodegradable items.
Meanwhile several people yesterday gathered in Ruwa to conduct the provincial clean-up campaign.
The clean-up campaign was led by Harare Provincial Development Coordinator (PDC) Mr Tafadzwa Muguti on behalf of Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who urged the people to ensure that their places were clean most of the time.
Council workers, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) and various organisations participated in the clean-up.
“Today marks the third anniversary of His Excellency’s clean up campaign which was launched in 2018. Today we are here in Ruwa at George shops standing in for the Honourable Vice President Cde C G N Chiwenga who was also supposed to be here but he also celebrating the same anniversary in another province.
“What we have seen here is very important to teach our citizen to have a culture of cleanliness we specifically chose this place Ruwa which is the next growing town, it is the fast growing industrial hub. At the same time, we are realizing that people need to be more conscientised more about cleanliness without cleanliness It will be more difficult for Zimbabwe to achieve the smart city agenda. I think what the President is asking people to do is not new but is simply asking Zimbabweans to use their common sense for the better good of our nation,” said Mr Muguti who emphasised the need for local authorities to up their game in terms of cleanliness.