guest column:Cliff Chiduku
Zimbabweans need to be worried, very worried. With the deadly novel coronavirus COVID 19 Osweeping parts of Asia, Europe, North America to a lesser extent and recently spreading into Africa, there is every reason for Zimbabweans to press the panic baton.
International health experts have already labelled Zimbabwe a high-risk country because of its travel links to coronavirus hotspots at a time the southern African nation’s poor response and preparedness is being exposed by its lackadaisical attitude to the crisis.
Zimbabwe is one of the leading countries which is at high risk, based on volumes of air traffic to virus hot beds.
According to the World Health Organisation, the coronavirus has affected 65 countries, claimed 3 131 casualties as of Wednesday with 92 292 rising cases recorded worldwide since the virus was first was discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in January.
With its porous borders, experts have warned that Zimbabwe’s fragile healthcare system manned by demotivated personnel who are made to contend with archaic equipment and lack of consumables, the country is in a real bind. With our healthcare system virtually dead, if the virus pays us a courtesy visit, then Zimbabwe would be wiped of the earth’s face.
With South Africa, our biggest trading partner and neighbour planning to evacuate at least 151 of its citizens from Wuhan, chances of the deadly virus crossing the Limpopo River are high.
At a time the Zimbabwe National Army is curiously prioritising how to snoop into private communications between citizens to guard against “subversion” their South African counterparts are launching an unprecedented operation to evacuate citizens stranded in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicentre of the coronavirus disease. Health minister Zweli Mkhize on Sunday emphasised that strict measures will be taken to ensure evacuees do not infect each other, or anyone else. What a caring government.
While Pretoria was agonising about what to do with its trapped nationals, Health minister Obadiah Moyo said they were still crafting ways to arrest the virus before it makes way into the country.
“The main issue is in relation to the protection of the country. We are making sure there is no Covi-19 entering Zimbabwe. We have to think of means and ways of how people with the disease may be coming into Zimbabwe,” he said. Moyo is still thinking of possible ways the disease may enter Zimbabwe! Clear evidence that the government is in denial mode. Coronavirus is real.
That aside, there is no doubt that denialism is not only suicidal, but dangerous. During his tenure, former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki, under pressure from Aids denialists, downplayed the HIV and Aids pandemic, casting doubt on effectiveness of anti-retroviral therapy (ART). This unwillingness to roll out ART programmes claimed the lives of over 300 000 people in South Africa. In 2017, the Somali-American community in Minnesota was struck by a severe measles outbreak as a result of proponents of the discredited theory that the measles vaccine would cause autism, which dissuaded parents from vaccinating their children.
The most obvious and potentially disastrous impact of denialism also revolves around climate change. Despite an overwhelming, unquestionable scientific proof about the drivers and likely impact of climate change, many people, including US President Donald Trump, remain in furious denial about its very existence.
People who spoke about the virus first were arrested in China, but when reality set in on ruling authorities, the disease had caused untold damage. From loss of investment and tourists, China will forever feel the effects of the virus. The disease has caused both disruption and destruction to China’s economic well-being and it will take long for the Asian economic giant to adjust to the impacts of the deadly virus.
Zimbabwe is also trapped in denialism. Just like China, Zimbabwe will pay the prices of its denialism.
From Aids, to Gukurahundi, the scourge of denialism is still upon us. At the root, denialism can be as simple as refusing to accept that someone else is speaking truthfully. Denial can be as unfathomable as the multiple ways people avoid acknowledging their weaknesses and desires. Denial hides from the truth, denialism creates its own truth.
The coronavirus pandemic rivals SARS, ebola, Aids and leprosy among other diseases. With Zimbabwe failing to deal with primitive diseases such as cholera and typhoid, it would be disastrous if the coronavirus sets foot in the country.
Unfortunately, denialism is becoming a prominent part of public policy and international relations and the potential impact could be catastrophic.
With China being Zimbabwe’s all-weather friend, the government is reluctant to close the door on Beijing for fear of losing diplomatic freebies. Kenya took the unusual step with President Uhuru Kenyatta, urging Ethiopian Airlines to cancel some of its flights into the country saying: “Our worry as a country is not that China cannot manage the disease. Our biggest worry is diseases coming into areas with weaker health systems like ours.” That is decisive leadership, which is in short supply in Zimbabwe.
As the virus spreads globally, airlines are cancelling routes to China both as a precaution and to stop the spread of the virus, but Zimbabwe is open for business and ultimately coronavirus.
Travellers from countries with severe coronavirus outbreaks should be quarantined. Travellers from the virus hotspots arriving in Beijing are being isolated. This is necessary as China is “in wartime, fighting this epidemic”.
But the Zimbabwean government has never bothered to come up with action plans of preventing the importation of the deadly virus. Sceptics of Zimbabwe’s preparedness to address a pandemic such as coronavirus have good reasons for their doubts. News doing the rounds on social media say authorities at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport are just checking on temperature as a way to screen for the coronavirus. It all boils down to incapacitation.
Is prevention not better than cure? Admitting that we have a new threat to our nationhood would unlock help from partners rather than bury heads in the sand. It’s time to stop denying it.
But everything points to failure of leadership. Cyclone Idai is a case in point. More than a year after the worst cyclone hit the south-eastern parts of the country; the government is yet to come to grips with the disaster. A stitch in time saves nine. Food for thought!