AFTER months of efforts to keep coronavirus out of Zimbabwe, the government is still struggling to gain public confidence on its ability to fight the deadly epidemic.
That the coronavirus (Covid-19) is on the country’s doorstep in South Africa, Zimbabweans feel it is now a matter of time before the scourge spreads into the country via Beitbridge Boarder Post, the country’s busiest port of entry.
Moses Tendaupenyu, a barber in Harare, says he cannot help, but worry about the government’s preparedness to tackle the virus, especially after a picture of Beitbridge’s screening point recently went viral on social media.
“I was shocked to see that small desk the government is using to screen coronavirus. Honestly we cannot say we are trying to stop the spread of a deadly disease into the country when our screening points are a joke.
“We have also heard our friends and relatives saying they are not even being screened and monitored for the 21-day prescribed period even after coming from infected countries. We cannot help, but lose faith in our government’s efforts.
“This matter needs to be taken seriously,” he said.
The coronavirus has affected over 80 countries, where more than 3 700 people have died and 95 000 infected.
According to Unicef, the virus is spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person and by touching contaminated surfaces.
The children’s organisation said its symptoms include cough, fever and shortness of breath and in more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties.
The public have been encouraged to wash their hands with soap, cover their mouths and nose when coughing and sneezing as there is no specific medicine to prevent or treat the coronavirus.
In Zimbabwe, efforts have been made to scale up government’s preparedness as Cabinet on Tuesday moved to demand valid medical certificates of clearance for coronavirus from individuals coming from countries affected by the deadly virus.
The development comes as the government moves to strengthen its preparedness for the fast spreading epidemic, which has been confirmed in over eight African countries.
However, medical practitioners said although they appreciate the government’s attempt to try and stop the spread of the coronavirus into Zimbabwean borders, they feel more could be done.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights board chair Fortune Nyamande says: “We need to expand the number of centres that have effective quarantine facilities across the country.
“We need to complement the existing laboratory diagnostics with other radiological methods like CT scans which have been proven to aid clinical diagnosis.
“We also need to ensure all health workers are adequately trained on how to respond if faced with a patient with symptoms of this virus.”
Nyamande suggested that government should consider introducing a travel ban to protect citizens as the country’s dying health sector may fail to manage the disease if it hits the country.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has not recommended travel bans from China, but in view of the dilapidated healthcare system in our country we think it is a possible solution worth for all stakeholders to discuss and weigh its repercussions,” he adds.
The country’s health sector has been deteriorating following a series of challenges including doctors and nurses on strike, drugs, equipment and staff shortages.
This has compromised healthcare and left Zimbabweans unable to access essential services.
Senior Hospital Doctors Association president Shingai Nyaguse told this publication that public health institutions in the country are not ready to handle coronavirus.
“All I can say is that our hospitals and health institutions are not in a position to deal with a large number of patients with severe symptoms,” Nyaguse said.
WHO country representative Alex Gasasira has, however, said Zimbabwe is making progress in trying to meet the internationally-required standards for preparedness.
“Zimbabwe is implementing WHO recommendations to enhance preparedness to ensure timely detection and effective response to COVID-19. This is work in progress.
“Building capacity of health workers in surveillance, contact tracing, risk communication, management of cases, infection prevention and control has started, but has to continue.
“Zimbabwe now has capacity for in-country laboratory diagnosis and has designated isolation centres.
“Efforts to identify and capacitate additional isolation centres so that they facilitate access from all areas of the country has started and should be supported,” he said.
Gasasira added that it was also important to educate and engage communities so that they are all aware of actions to take to minimise risks of getting infected with the virus.
The virus has prompted numerous cancellations and postponements of events and activities globally.
A conference on the world economy that was due to take place in Italy later this month has been postponed until November due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The French government has also put a temporary ban on public gatherings with more than 5 000 people.
Japan has resolved to close schools until the end of March, in a move that is thought to affect 13 million students.
Hungary and Greece have closed borders to asylum seekers to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa recently ordered the repatriation of over 100 South Africans from China, a move meant to protect them from possible infection .