IT was just a matter of when, not if.
By Tatenda Chitagu
And it came to pass when the country’s pioneer urban settlement, Masvingo city, recorded a spike in coronavirus cases, from a single case to 25 in just four days.
This saw the national tally more than doubling ever since the outbreak was recorded in March, from Tuesdays’ 63 to 132 by Wednesday night, with Harare, Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North and Bulawayo also recording new infections, according to statistics availed by the Health and Child Care ministry on May 27.
The national tally now stands at 149 cases.
The first infection here of a returnee from Botswana was diagnosed from conclusive tests from samples taken at a quarantine centre at Masvingo Teachers College, located about 12km out of town.
Health officials had ordered the asymptomatic lady to self-isolate at her home in Rujeko high-density suburb.
The city’s 150 000 residents — who since March 20 just heard about the global pandemic “elsewhere” before it hit closer home, are yet to learn to live with it and accept reality.
The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020.
The coronavirus spike has sent residents — struggling economically under the current lockdown measures to reduce the spread of the disease — into shock.
“We are now on a tight spot, we survive on vending and we cannot stop selling our daily farm produce, otherwise we will starve. We dont know what to do now,” Rester Mawuyu, a vendor in Rujeko, said.
For many residents, throwing caution to the wind, it had been life as we used to know it. But the spike in infections has jolted others out of that slumber.
“Now, I need to be extra cautious. This is not time for risking my life going out unnecessarily. I have to stay at home,” another resident who did not want to be identified, said.
Even the Health and Child Care ministry seemed not to believe the initial rise in infections in Masvingo, with a retest being ordered to ascertain the authenticity of the results, according to a situation report from government on Wednesday.
“A sample of the positive cohort was resampled and retested and the results were in agreement with the initial results. This confirmation was required because of the unusual surge of positive tests after the introduction of the cartridge-based nucleic acid PCR (gene-expert),” the situational report released on May 27.
According to health regulations concerning the disease, returning citizens have to undergo compulsory 14-day quarantine upon return into the country, before self-isolating at home for another week.
Reports that 118 returnees fled from quarantine centres countrywide before being tested for the disease did not make things any better for the panicky residents.
“‘This is now scary. It seems the spread of the disease is no longer under control if those in quarantine centres could be allowed to mix and mingle with the general public and even escape without getting tested,” one resident said of the upsurge in infections.
Health minister Obadiah Moyo on Tuesday told Parliament that returnees mainly from South Africa, the continent’s hotspot, as well as Botswana and Zambia, pose the greatest threat to COVID 19 containment in the country.
“Our biggest problem are returnees. That is where we are going to have a lot of cases from people coming from South Africa and Botswana, but we cannot stop them from coming home.
“The majority of reported COVID-19 cases are the ones of people coming through as returnees and we have less local transmissions, showing that our tracking systems are efficient,” Moyo told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, chaired by Zanu PF Hurungwe Central MP Doubt Ndiweni.
Masvingo mayor, Collin Maboke said it was time for the city to get out of denial mode and accept reality.
‘Of course, we did not expect to be hit that hard as we thought the city would remain with low or no cases at all. But this is no time for denial or stigma. Residents should know that this is a disease just like any other and all we need to do now is be cautious, avoid unnecessary travel and adhere to what the health officials and the authorities advise us,” he said.
Ward seven councillor Richard Musekiwa, under whose area Rujeko falls, bemoaned the fact that most people did not have proper masks.
“The sad thing is that most people do not have face masks. They cannot afford to buy them. All the people are thinking about at the moment is putting food on the table. We urge government to distribute free masks to citizens,” he said.