THE government said yesterday it is further tightening its national coronavirus lockdown measures, by clamping down on unnecessary travel between the country’s urban and rural areas.
The move — which is part of the fight by authorities against the global pandemic — comes as the government is frantically trying to trace people who made contact with an 82-year-old granny from Mhondoro, who succumbed to the deadly disease earlier this week.
Health and Child Care minister Obadiah Moyo confirmed to the Daily News yesterday that the government had further increased its monitoring capacity and checkpoints along the country’s major highways, to stop urban dwellers from travelling to the rural areas.
“There are now more checkpoints on major roads, and only essential workers are being allowed to move.
“There is a possibility that people who travelled to rural areas could have transmitted the disease (in the case of the late granny).
“In rural areas, some people are sneaking through checkpoints. As government, it is our intention to stop such movements and to also test as many people as possible in rural areas,” Moyo said.
“We also want our people to understand that there is need to change our cultural practices to ensure effective social distancing.
“Of course, we have clinics and hospitals in the rural areas that are on high alert, but we need to do more.
“Going into the future, we have put all our stations on high alert and be on the lookout for possible cases,” Moyo told the Daily News further.
Zimbabwe is currently in an extended lockdown, after the country failed to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s conditions for lifting the initial stay-at-home order.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office also said on Thursday that authorities would deploy more soldiers nationally, to complement the work of police in fortifying the lockdown, after noticing further slips in discipline by ordinary Zimbabweans.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba confirmed to the Daily News that more soldiers were being considered for deployment, especially in residential areas in towns.
“Presently, there is a greater presence of soldiers, for example, on major roads into Harare and not inside Harare.
“Arterial roads that get into Harare have a large number of soldiers assisting the police. We had not deployed them in residential areas, save for a few during the first few days of the lockdown.
“We now need to revisit that and ensure that they are also present in the residential areas,” Charamba said.
Police have so far arrested thousands of people for various crimes related to breaches of the tough laws accompanying the stay-at-home order.
All this comes as Zimbabwe has recorded four deaths from the 28 cases of people infected by Covid-19 in the country.
Moyo also told the Daily News yesterday that the recent decision by Cabinet to reduce the days that returning Zimbabweans spend in quarantine would not lead to a spike in infections, as is being feared by doctors.
“The reduction of the quarantine period is based on scientific models, as people will be tested and positive cases will stay isolated. Those found to be negative will be observed from their homes,” he said.
This comes after authorities cut down the number of days that returning Zimbabweans should spend in mandatory quarantine from 14 to eight earlier this week.
Moyo said Cabinet had approved the reduction of the mandatory quarantine days due to budgetary constraints. He also said the decision was meant to decongest confinement centres.
However, speaking to the Daily News, doctors said while it was understandable that Mnangagwa’s broke government was trying to cut its cost of taking care of returnees — by reducing the number of quarantine days — this could result in a health disaster.
The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), Fortune Nyamande, was among those who said cutting the number of quarantine days for returning residents was “a risky gamble” by the government.
“The assumption in this decision is that an infected individual will have a positive PCR (polymerise chain reaction) result within eight days from the date of quarantine.
“However, this is a new disease with new knowledge unfolding daily. It would have been more ideal to stick to the mandatory 14 to 21-day quarantine period as adopted by most countries.
“The individuals must, therefore, be advised to further self-quarantine for the remaining 14 days if the government is to adopt this new approach,” Nyamande told the Daily News.
“For example, the Covid-19 PCR test can have a false negative result, which means policymakers can end up releasing someone with Covid-19 into the community before the onset of symptoms.
“It is thus better to err on the side of caution,” Nyamande added.
The secretary-general of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA), Aaron Musara, weighed in, saying the government was effectively increasing the risk of the spread of the deadly coronavirus in the country.
“The time period that the government is proposing is very short given that the virus takes up to 14 days to be detectable in most patients.
“We understand that the government wants to cut the bill of taking care of returning residents, but reducing the number of days may result in people with the virus being released prematurely into the community.
“If someone comes into the country at day two of the virus’ incubation period, and then they are tested at day eight, chances are high that they might be cleared of Covid-19 only for it to resurface later at day 14 or 15,” Musara warned.
“And that person would have been released to the community and possibly come into contact with other people in their community.
“Releasing people without having certain proof that they are free of Covid-19 will result in a spike in the number of cases in the country and that could be a huge blow given that we are still trying to resuscitate the health system, which had literally collapsed due to years of mismanagement,” he added.
Musara also said although the PCR test was one of the most accurate when checking for coronavirus, it needed to be done at the right time to be able to rule out or confirm the presence of Covid-19 in an individual.
“The PCR test, if used properly and at the right time, has an accuracy rate of about 70 percent. It involves the collection of samples from nasal swabs which are then tested for the coronavirus.
“If the test is done before the virus has finished its incubation period, then chances are high it will not detect it.
“If it is done after 14 days, which have been confirmed to be the number of days it takes for the virus to have completed incubation, then the results will be very accurate in whatever they reveal,” Musara further told the Daily News.