HomeOpinion & AnalysisCOVID-19 secretly spreading within communities

COVID-19 secretly spreading within communities


It is just after mid-day and the hot November sun is blazing, signifying the arrival of the rains.


The popular Copacabana bus terminus is teeming with hustlers selling all sorts of trinkets as money changers lean on their cars. Many are loading mounts of sadza into their mouths while engaged in bawdy language.

Sharing food is not uncommon with various hands digging into the greasy food served from car boots.

Commuters are in long winding queues breathing heavily down each other’s sweaty necks, anxious to get onto the Zupco bus.

A young conductor sits at the entrance with his ticket book talking jovially to commuters.

Groups of school pupils stand huddled together as they await their turn to board the bus.

In the tiny shops around the populous area, prospective customer jostle to view the cheap products largely from Zambia, Tanzania or Mozambique.
All seem normal. No one is wearing a mask and there is no physical distancing.

The Zupco personnel has long since stopped sanitising passengers’ hands as they board the buses, which now even have standing passengers.

It is as if COVID-19 has disappeared and yet reports and statistics indicate that Zimbabwe could already be in the second phase considered more deadly than the first.

“So, what is really apparent is, we are probably already in the second wave,” said public health practitioner Grant Murewanhema who shared insights into the prevailing situation.

“After a period of relative quiescence, the confirmed positive numbers have started going up again, albeit less sick people. The virus is very much around and spreading quietly.”

Stakeholders including the Vice-President, who is also the Health minister, Constantino Chiwenga, have raised concerns over failure by people to pay attention to the basic ways of controlling the spread of the virus such as physical distancing, wearing of face masks and proper hand hygiene as well as coughing etiquette.

“Higher levels of complacency have set in, mainly because people have a very low risk perception, some think COVID-19 is not for Zimbabweans and Africa and others simply don’t care,” Murewanhema said.

The economic malaise has also forced some to engage in risky behaviour as they hustle for survival.

“A lot has to balance between fear of COVID-19 and bread and butter issues; people have to feed their families,” Murewanhema added.

The recent outbreaks of COVID-19 infections in schools pose another headache. The children are facing a double dilemma at community level as well as at the densely populated schools. Most students are not adhering to WHO specified regulations.

“We cannot afford to be complacent with COVID-19. Today, seven people tested positive for COVID- 19 in Chinhoyi.

“These are Chinhoyi University of Technology students and the provincial medical director said a lecturer, who tested positive last week at the institution, was seen roaming around town without a mask,” Information secretary Nick Mangwana tweeted.

But people have accused the government of being lax with regulations and hurriedly reopening schools.

A local school (name provided) has no water forcing it to devise a plan which allows non-examination classes to come only for two or three days.
School authorities sent messages to parents letting them know of the development.

“Due to Zesa faults in the school environs lessons for tomorrow have been suspended except for Grade 7s. Zesa affects borehole water pumping. City of Harare pumps are dry. We are having to source out water for use by the Grade 7s (sic),” read the text which was shared by a parent.

“Unfortunately, the borders are reopening, schools and colleges are open, and reinforcing control interventions is very difficult,” Murewanhema, who accused the government of being too relaxed about regulations, said.

“Most regulations are quite vague. As a result, people can do whatever they want. Look at what happened at Ginimbi’s funeral. Thousands of people thronged the streets; no control.”

With the rainy season approaching, wet weather may precipitate more infections.

“Schools are failing to meet the COVID-19 standard operating procedures because of underfunding. This is a time bomb. Big decisions have to be made,” a teacher, who refused to be named, said.

Legislators are now calling for closure of schools as the curve starts an upward movement.

“So we have to urge people to guard so much against complacency. Even if one is fit, they have to think about the next person; their grandmother, their grandfather and so forth, who may be very vulnerable. At the stage where we are human behaviour and attitude are now more critical for dealing with the outbreak than regulations imposed by government,” Murewanhema said.

The public health practitioner said lockdowns could not last forever and schools could not remain closed forever.

“So what we do at individual, family and community levels is more important as this determines the capacity to make or break the chain of transmission for SARS-CoV-2,” he said.

Of concern is the preparedness of public health facilities given their current state.
Parirenyatwa Hospital, however, maintained that it was prepared for the second wave, insisting the health facility was ready to handle COVID-19 cases.

“The numbers of patients requiring admission have gone down significantly, leading us to down scale activities in the COVID-19 centre and increase our services to other patients who need care for the conventional diseases and conditions,” Parirenyatwa hospital spokesperson Lenos Dhire said.

“Of note is that the infectious diseases hospitals, which are supposed to look after COVID-19 cases, are now also ready and we expect them to play a major role while we concentrate on COVID-19 patients requiring specialised and critical care.”

“If levels go up, we may need to restock some medicines. They have been locally available so procurement procedures have not been a challenge.”
Dhire said they had enough staff on standby to cater for the COVID-19 centre if the numbers went up.

However when COVID-19 first hit the country, all systems were said to be ready but it did not take long for the farce to be exposed.

“There is at least a prospect that we have a vaccine that could be 95% effective; but we await finer details. Otherwise many hundreds candidate vaccines have not done so well. Prevention remains our best weapon for now,” Murewanhema said.

 Follow Phyllis on Twitter @pmbanje

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