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Emerging COVID-19 variant calls for more vigilance

The extension was unnecessary and would cost the economy dearly, they pontificated as new infections were declining, as was the number of daily reported cases and deaths.

WHEN government extended the level 4 lockdown by another fortnight last week, it was met by howls of disapproval by local medical experts.

The extension was unnecessary and would cost the economy dearly, they pontificated as new infections were declining, as was the number of daily reported cases and deaths.

There was no justification for the extension, they lamented.

This was because there was a reduction in COVID-19 admissions at most hospitals, hence the justification for extending level four lockdown measures was questionable.

“Situational reports from @MoHCCZim clearly show COVID-19 infections well below the resurgence threshold. Most COVID-19 units countrywide have significantly reduced admissions. Lock down has achieved its aims,” Zimbabwe Senior Hospital Doctors Association are quoted as saying.

“If we are basing decisions on statistics and science, what is the justification for the extension?”

Another expert opined: “We have a decline in both new cases and deaths, according to statistics from government. We expect government to consider easing the lockdown in anticipation of the fourth wave. Since the fourth wave is highly probable towards the end of the year, during this period when new infections, deaths and admissions are receding, it was prudent for government to open schools and allow some social and economic activities to take place as it is vital for people’s livelihoods.”

Recent developments, however, show that maybe the government knew something that the so-called experts and the general public did not know.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases this week issued an alert about a new variant, the C.1.2 which had been detected in all provinces in the country.

The variant was first detected in May and was spreading at a relatively low rate, it said, but had already been detected in seven other countries on the continent, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Health experts yesterday confirmed the presence of the new variant in Zimbabwe. This came as no surprise given the proximity of the two countries who share the busiest border post in southern Africa.

Local experts think the new variant spells trouble for Zimbabwe and could be the harbinger for the fourth wave.

“Zimbabwe and South Africa are geologically linked together and our malayitshas just take 10 hours to move from Gauteng (province in South Africa) to Zimbabwe,” Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive, Solwayo Ngwenya said.

There are many reasons to worry. The wide border between Zimbabwe and South Africa is like a sieve, with illegal crossings the order of the day. It makes the presence of the new variant a foregone conclusion. With schools having reopened this week, and some public transport system in operation, the avenues for its spread are increasing. These will widen as the economy opens further given that  the government has relaxed the lockdown measures.

The new danger means Zimbabwe needs to tread carefully, with a new devil on the horizon.

While the Delta variant remains the dominant strain that is spreading fast globally, the new devil may yet stake its own claim as the most devastating yet in an anticipated fourth wave.

So, the government could do well to keep the lockdown measures in place and widen its inoculation outreach to thwart its spread.