Coronavirus, one year on in Zim

Tirivanhu Kateera

It wasn’t easy. It took an intrepid leadership in the name of the New Dispensation (ND) to institute unpopular decision and policies to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Lots of insults were directed at the ND to scuttle efforts and measures put in place to stop the spread of the pandemic with the ultimate goal to blame the government again when the situation went out of control.

However because the ND believed in public good and what it was doing to save lives, it remained resolute and focused.

On 20 March, 2021, Zimbabwe marked a year since the first COVID-19 case was reported in the country. The case was that of a resident of the resort City of Victoria Falls, who had earlier travelled to the United Kingdom on a business trip and only showed symptoms a few days after his return.

There was a good reason for panic for all and sundry since then, there was neither cure nor vaccine for the pandemic let alone enough research on the virus itself.

By and large during those early days the pandemic was viewed as a death sentence.

Lots of myths and misconceptions surrounded the pandemic especially by the country’s sworn nemeses who wished the worse for the country, went as far as politicising the pandemic for political mirage.

Responding to the threat posed by Covid-19, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced the painful, but necessary national lockdown starting March 30, 2020, including the closure of borders, schools, universities and colleges, banning of inter-city travel and restricting citizens to their homes most of the time.

Again this was resisted and opposed by dark forces.

Court proceedings were disrupted, government departments were directed to operate with skeleton staff and companies were also closed down, except for those sectors offering essential services.

Attendance at church services and funerals was also restricted, while weddings, house parties and public gatherings were forbidden.

However, the number of community infections surged between December 2020 and January, 2021 as people became relaxed during the festive season and stopped observing preventive measures imposed by the government in line with World Health Organization (WHO) protocols.

The festive spirit also coincided with the re-opening of borders and an influx of people, especially from South Africa where infections are currently the highest in Africa. The ‘super spreaders’ were those using illegal crossing points into Zimbabwe from South Africa skipping all screening processes.

The high number of infections and deaths at the beginning of 2021 pushed the Government to impose another necessary lockdown once more on January 5, 2021, resulting in the decline of new infection figures.

The Government went on to have a phased re-opening of schools with examination classes re-opening on March 15 with the rest of classes starting on March 22,202.  The return to normalcy has been slow, but its achievable.

Some people indeed lost relatives, loved ones, and friends to the pandemic. Some government officials and prominent people who succumbed to the pandemic to date include; Perence Shiri, Agriculture Minister; Ellen Gwaradzimba, Minister for Provincial Affairs for Manicaland province; Morton Malianga, the country's Deputy Finance Minister in the 1980s;Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Sibusiso Moyo; former Education Minister ,Aeneas Chigwedere and Transport Minister, Joel Biggie Matiza.

On the economic front, most people’s sources of incomes were cut to varying degrees. To some it was 100 percent, to some 50 percent to some 25 percent.

President Mnangagwa recently acknowledged that:  “The pandemic was a huge blow for Zimbabwe’s tourism. There was a 90% decline in visitors in 2020. But we can only reopen our industry when our people are protected. That’s why from yesterday (March23), all residents of Victoria Falls are eligible for vaccination”

Be that as it may there is hope in the air to combat the pandemic following the timely intervention by China to provide much-needed vaccines on 15 February, 2021 with the national vaccination exercise beginning on 18 February, 2021.

The 200,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines were the first batch that Zimbabwe received to step up efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vaccines covered all frontline health workers firstly, and the excess was extended to vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

By mid-March, 2021 a lot of ground had been covered in-terms of inoculating frontline workers with plans afoot to vaccinate the entire adult population in the City of Victoria Falls as part of efforts to boost tourists’ confidence.

As the third wave of the COVID-19 remains a possibility in many countries, Zimbabweans cannot afford to relax in terms of observance of the pandemic regulations as set by WHO and our Government. At the same time, people should get vaccinated for the country to achieve herd immunity, which can be achieved if 60% of the population gets inoculated.

By March 24, Zimbabwe had 1 512 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, 36 665 positive cases, while globally more than two million people have died and more than 122 million others were infected.