Government feels heat over Covid-19… as infections spike, returnees flee isolation centres

©️ MEDICAL experts yesterday implored authorities to tighten their measures at all the country’s borders and quarantine centres, to avoid a coronavirus catastrophe in the country, the Daily News reports.

This comes after Zimbabwe recorded a staggering 76 new positive cases of the disease on Wednesday, with 75 of them involving returnees and deportees from South Africa and Botswana.
It also comes as the government has admitted that it lacks the capacity to deal with the influx of returning citizens — some of whom are fleeing from quarantine centres as a result of the inadequate conditions prevailing there.
Yesterday, experts told the Daily News that the government now needed to take drastic measures — including considering closing all the country’s borders temporarily, even to returning residents — to contain the surging infections.
The president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina), Enock Dongo, was among those who said temporarily closing the country’s borders was one of options that the government needed to consider.
“Our government and other Sadc countries should try by all means to stop the spreading of Covid-19 by curtailing the movement of people from one country to another.
“At the moment, our systems as Sadc countries do not seem to be adequate. How were those 75 people (returnees) not tested in those countries where they came from?
“Sadc countries should work together. If governments have to feed their people from the countries where they are, then that should be done,” Dongo told the Daily News.
He also said authorities needed to further tighten the current national coronavirus lockdown, including increasing security at quarantine centres.
“In addition, and in terms of preparedness, Zimbabwe is still not yet there.
“At the moment, we have 103 active cases, and if all of them were to require admission, our hospitals would not have the capacity to accommodate them.
“We do not have enough ventilators,” Dongo further told the Daily News.
The secretary-general of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA), Arron Musara, said while shutting borders was an option for overstretched authorities, there was also need for balance to address the plight of many of the Zimbabweans who are returning home.
“Many of our people in South Africa are now suffering because they are not working and earning, while they also cannot access social services there.
“They yearn to come back home. Closing boarders can only be done in liaison with neighbouring countries. Our porous borders are our greatest threat from Covid-19,” he said.
He also observed that those returning residents who were coming back through official entry points were less of a risk than those crossing through the bushes.
“We need to reinforce our quarantine and border surveillance,” Musara added.
The whopping 76 new positive cases which were reported among the country’s returning residents on Wednesday mean that Zimbabwe now has 132 cases of Covid-19.
The spike in coronavirus cases came after Defence minister — also the deputy chairperson of the Covid-19 taskforce — Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told Parliament on Wednesday that authorities were ill-prepared to deal with returning residents and deportees.
Yesterday, Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo said it was not possible for the country to close its borders to its citizens — as this would be against the country’s Constitution.
Minister of Health Obadiah Moyo
“We cannot shut our citizens out as they belong here, but we want them to be responsible so that they are tested and go through screening and quarantine processes.
“We cannot afford any let-ups because our health is of paramount importance. What we need to do is to ensure that we follow returning citizens everywhere until we are satisfied that they are free of the virus.
“We must make sure that they don’t mix with locals when they come in,” Moyo told the Daily News.
On Wednesday, Muchinguri-Kashiri also told Parliament that there had been a recent influx of returnees from South Africa and Botswana.
“That has put us under tremendous pressure and we have found ourselves incapacitated.
“Within the next week we are expecting 3 000 more returnees from various countries … We are also falling short in terms of PPEs and testing kits which remain a concern to us because of international competition,” she said.
This came as police said 118 returnees had fled quarantine centres, with some of the facilities condemned by both returnees and rights groups for being inhabitable.
In April, a group of Zimbabweans which had returned home from overseas clashed with authorities over poor facilities at one of the colleges they were accommodated at in Harare.
They ended up requesting to pay from their own pockets for decent accommodation at some of the hotels in the capital city.
Meanwhile, the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZAHDR), Norman Matara, said the government needed to invest in quarantine centres to avoid cases of people escaping from them during isolation.
“We need to invest in our quarantine facilities to make sure there is no spread of infections within those facilities. We need to avoid having people sharing amenities and toiletries.
“Facilities should also be regularly disinfected, and people entering quarantine facilities should be tested on the first day and upon discharge — and the results released immediately.
“Basic stuff for good hygiene practices should also be readily available in these facilities,” Matara said.

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