BY MUGOVE TAFIRENYIKA

EXPERTS are calling for both calm and vigilance as the southern region faces a fourth coronavirus wave, following the recent discovery of a new variant in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana.

In addition, authorities are also urging Zimbabweans who have not yet been vaccinated to do so without any further delay, amid early indications that the new variant, B.1.1.529, is highly transmissible.

At the same time, the government has been called upon to tighten ports of entry and also move with speed to establish if the new variant is already in the country.

The national Covid-19 co-ordinator in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, Agnes Mahomva, said the nation needed to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

“We have always warned about the possibility of a fourth wave. What it means, therefore, is that we must get vaccinated.

“We are aware that the majority of people who are currently being admitted at hospitals are the unvaccinated ones.

“We are currently doing genomic sequencing to see what is on the ground, but we call upon members of the public not to panic. We are prepared for the worst case scenario,” Mahomva said.

“This is the reason why we have embarked on the ambitious and ongoing vaccination programme to reach herd immunity.

“So, we call upon citizens who have not been inoculated to do so because if we are hit by the more virulent variant we could be in trouble,” she said.

Mahomva added that authorities were now consulting on the way forward, with a view to coming up with new measures that included tightening the country’s borders.

Meanwhile, health experts say it is critical for people to maintain their discipline, as the country faces a potentially more devastating coronavirus fourth wave.

The president of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA), Shingai Nyaguse-Chiurunge, was among the experts who said Zimbabweans needed to be on high alert as South Africa investigates the new variant.

“It is too early to really say we are already in trouble because South Africa is still investigating the new variant.

“We await further information on the strain while at the same time we should continue to take preventive measures.

“We also urge people not to panic now, although we must still remain vigilant,” Nyaguse-Chiurunge told the Daily News.

The president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association (MDPPZA). Johannes Marisa, warned that the country was facing a potential coronavirus drumfire unless authorities tightened borders.

“Now we have another strong variant that is coming from South Africa, which means that we could be in trouble.

“It is unfortunate that our borders are porous. So, we will definitely be affected by what happens in South Africa.

“The strain is being detected in South Africa not because that is where it is only found in the region, but rather because they do gene sequencing quickly.

“The fourth wave is inevitable and we could have a miserable festive season and a calamitous period from February, just like what is happening in European countries such as Germany,” Marisa said.

On his part, the acting chief executive of Mpilo Hospital, Solwayo Ngwenya, warned that the seemingly complacent behaviour by ordinary people would backfire in the wake of the discovery of the new variant.

“There has been a lot of complacency over the past three months. So, it is a matter of time before we are in serious trouble because we have already sleep-walked into another wave.

“This variant is so worrisome because some infected people tend to present negative tests.

“The variant doesn’t lodge into the nasopharyngeal region like others do, but straight into the lungs.

“So, that will pose a lot of problems, that is if the horses have not already bolted,” a concerned Ngwenya told the Daily News.

“There is a need for authorities to think deeper and come up with ways to contain it than merely putting stricter measures in border controls,” he added.

Ngwenya also felt that authorities had been ignoring expert advice regarding the possibility of a fourth wave.

“We have been giving warnings that this Covid-19 is still with us for the foreseeable future, and that we must never let our guard down. But all that has fallen on deaf ears.

“The new variant is probably all over the country because there have been unrestricted movements in and outside the country. 

“People are travelling from South Africa and the rest of the region with little restriction and we have been warning of its dangers,” Ngwenya further told the Daily News.

Zimbabwe has so far recorded 4 703 deaths since the virulent respiratory disease was first recorded in the country in March last year.

All this comes as nearly four million people have been vaccinated in the country amid attempts to inoculate 10 million by the end of next month, to reach much-needed herd immunity.

It also comes as the head of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) , John Nkengasong, has revealed that many countries on the continent are experiencing or have experienced the fourth wave of Covid-19.

These countries include Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Eritrea, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Somalia and Tunisia.

Nkengasong said Mauritius had actually been hit by a fifth wave, adding that “the waves will continue unless we scale-up vaccinations and maintain good public health practices”.

He also said while Africa, with its 54 countries, had received 403 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, only 221 million had been administered so far — representing about 55 percent of the total vaccines.

He said only 6,6 percent of Africa’s population of over 1,2 billion was fully vaccinated, meaning that the continent was far from reaching the aim of fully vaccinating 70 percent of its people by the end of 2022.

Africa has so far recorded 8,6 million infections, while the death toll from the virus has crossed 222 000. – Daily News