PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday announced new lockdown measures while the rest of southern Africa is still to come to terms with moves by the United Kingdom, European Union and other countries in the West to cut off the region over the new COVID-19 variant.
Under the new measures, all returning citizens and foreign nationals are now subjected to mandatory quarantine upon entry into the country, even if they possess a PCR negative test result.
A 9pm to 6am curfew now subsists, supermarkets are to close at 7pm, nightclubs and bars are open only to the vaccinated while funerals will be monitored by Health and Child Care ministry environmental officers.
But it is the imposition of mandatory quarantine, literally cutting off foreign-based nationals from returning home for the festive season, that raises a lot of questions.
A number of foreign-based nationals had made preparations to return home for the festive season after failing to do so in 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
In 2020, the country was recording an increase in fatalities and confirmed cases. Fast forward to 2021, Zimbabwe has not recorded any case of the new COVID-19 variant detected in Botswana and South Africa.
On Monday, South African Abdool Karim, a leading epidemiologist and HIV/Aids researcher, who is part of that country’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, said: “We simply do not have sound, reliable data on the clinical presentation. But we have no red flags that have been raised so far.”
So far, the Omicron variant has been detected in at least 19 countries since November 24.
No Omicron-linked deaths have been reported and further research is needed to assess its potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, as the World Health Organisation said on Monday this week.
It, therefore, leaves us questioning whether there was any scientific consideration when Mnangagwa announced new lockdown measures.
The measures, while well intended, point to self-sanctioning, and are odd for a country that prides itself as pan-African.
Epidemiology is a well-established science and the guidance it provides is perfectly reliable. But with the new variant, it is apparent that there was no science relied on in coming up with the new measures.
At best, it was a knee-jerk reaction — similar to the one announced by the UK and other countries on southern Africa.
Science provides a reliable guide to policy. It is reliable mainly because its predictions and assumptions are further tested and assessed by many disciplines.
As it is, Zimbabweans need clear communication about the risks posed by the new COVID-19 variant and effective strategies to combat them.