The almost one million Zimbabweans triple-vaccinated against Covid-19 no longer need to wear masks outdoors in public Cabinet agreed yesterday but those unvaccinated, or with only one or two doses, must still be masked in public.
Even the triple-vaccinated need to be masked in public indoors and riding on public transport.
By Monday evening 959 909 people had received the two main shots and the third booster, and these form the group now released from wearing masks outdoors in public.
With 4 752 575 having received the second dose, many of the 3 792 666 in this group who have not turned up for their third dose just need one shot to go maskless outdoors, although some obviously have to finish their six-month wait before the booster.
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the decision to remove the outdoor mask mandate for the triple-vaccinated was backed by the marked decline in Covid-19 cases.
“Noting the decrease in Covid-19 cases, Cabinet resolved that those who have received three doses of the World Health Organisation recommended vaccines are exempted from mandatory wearing of face masks in outdoor public places but should however wear face masks in indoor public places and on public transport.
“Those fully vaccinated should carry their vaccination cards all the time,” she said.
Since Covid-19 reached March 2020, Zimbabwe has recorded 256 561 cases with 250 733 recoveries and 5 588 deaths. In the last week, the number of new Covid-19 cases continued to decrease, with 57 cases being recorded, compared to the 105 recorded the previous week, marking a 46 percent decline. This translates to an average of eight new cases per day, compared to 15 cases daily in the previous week.
However, despite the relaxation of regulations, Government will continue to intensify the Covid-19 vaccination programme for the nation to achieve herd immunity, at a minimum almost everyone over 12 double-vaccinated.
So far out of the little over 15 million Zimbabweans counted in the census only 6 390 545 have even had one shot and numbers coming forward these days are very low, with Monday seeing less than 800 a day for first dose and less than 800 for second dose although the number wanting the third shot was over 1 000.
Even at the lower estimates for herd immunity something close to 10 million Zimbabweans need to be vaccinated, and with vaccine for under-12s still to be approved this means that almost all teenagers and adults need their jabs.
Minister Mutsvangwa said the country had enough stocks of vaccines and encouraged everyone eligible to get vaccinated.
The Government was still on high alert for an outbreak of monkeypox despite the country still having no confirmed cases.
While monkeypox is found naturally in African countries within the rainforest belt, with the Democratic Republic of Congo being the nearest reservoir to Zimbabwe, the world has seen a spread across a lot of countries this year.
Responding to questions on the decision to remove the mandatory wearing of masks outdoors for the triple-vaccinated, Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Professor Amon Murwira said masks were not a punishment but a measure to protect people against Covid-19 hence everyone should continue to adhere to the existing regulations.
“Masks are a matter of public health and the health of an individual who is putting them on. So it is very important that we always stress the reason why people should always put on masks is because they have to live and make the people around them live too while fighting against the pandemic,” he said.
“We are not saying the triple-vaccinated must, but people with three jabs can remove them in outdoor public spaces but not in indoor public spaces like in public transport; then they have to put on their masks.”
He said those who qualify for the exemption should always have their vaccination cards on them in the event that they are asked by the police.
Professor Murwira said the country was not yet out of the woods as it could record a resurgence of new cases hence it was in the interest of public health that people continue wearing masks.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Mr Itai Rusike welcomed the decision by the Cabinet which he said was in line with the regional trends after Namibia South Africa and Botswana had also removed the mandatory wearing of facemasks in public places.
“There was also poor compliance and adherence to the proper wearing of facemasks by the general public maybe because of fatigue and the hot summer weather. Given that Covid-19 is not yet over it is important to continue encouraging individuals to take up the vaccine jab including the additional booster jab,” he said.
He said communities and individuals should continue following the WHO-recommended guidelines and protocols especially when they are in public indoor spaces by continuing to wear their facemasks properly in order to protect themselves from Covid-19 and other viral infections such as monkeypox and measles.
“There is also need for sustained Covid-19 vaccine literacy so that the country can move towards meeting the required herd immunity. The public should also take note that the relaxation of mandatory wearing of facemasks only applies to the people that are fully vaccinated and provided they show proof of vaccination hence the need to get vaccinated,” added Mr Rusike.