BY MUGOVE TAFIRENYIKA

AMID concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant may be more deadly in Zimbabwe than previous strains, authorities are stepping up the national vaccination programme.

In this regard, more urgency is being placed on the roll-out of booster vaccines — which has seen President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his deputy Constantino Chiwenga and some Cabinet ministers receiving their third jabs.

Yesterday, staff from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) also received their third shots, amid calls for unvaccinated Zimbabweans to do so urgently, and those who have been vaccinated to get their booster jabs.

Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, the national Covid-19 co-ordinator in Mnangagwa’s office, Agnes Mahomva, pictured, said the government would procure enough booster vaccines for the country.

She said the third jabs were part of a raft of new measures that the government had put in place, including boosting the vaccination of eligible teenagers in schools.

“As you know, when we started the vaccination programme we were prioritising front-line workers, and we indicated that everybody who is eligible for vaccination will get jabs.

“The same is happening with the boosters, starting with priority groups — in order to ensure that the vaccines we have don’t run out.

“But we are very much on top of our game in terms of procuring more. We don’t want to procure them in bulk and then expire before they are used,” Mahomva told the Daily News.

“Whatever we have now is enough to start the vaccination programme, with the prioritisation that we have always done.

“I am happy to let you know that the detailed guidelines have since been issued by the ministry of Health, giving healthcare workers guidance in terms of when the booster is given.

“That is, for example, at six month intervals. And, that is to also say if you go for your second jab you don’t immediately qualify for your booster. You have to wait for that period,” Mahomva added.

Apart from frontline workers, she said the other priority groups for the booster jabs included people with chronic diseases, as well as the elderly.

A Covid-19 booster shot is an additional dose of a vaccine given after the protection provided by the original shots has begun to decrease over time.

Typically, one would get a booster after the immunity from the initial doses starts to wane. The booster is thus designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for longer.

Regarding the re-opening of schools, Mahomva said this would be dependent on the situation on the ground after collection of scientific data.

“We are guided by the science on the ground. We look at the numbers and we consider them every single day and week.

“We meet with the ministerial committee to review all this. So, when we had the deferment which did not state when exactly schools will re-open, it was simply to make people know that we will be guided by what is happening on the ground.

“When we see the numbers going down or going up, we make a decision to re-open or defer schooling a bit further,” Mahomva said.

“Therefore, no one is going to say we will re-open schools on such and such a day because it is the data we collect daily that guides us.

“On the ground, there was a campaign to vaccinate learners and the ministry of Health was working closely with the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to make sure that the programme succeeds … and it peaked up very nicely.

“Now that schools are closed, there are no figures available. But we are looking at innovative ways to make sure that the programme continues for that age group,” Mahomva added.

This comes as the country had recorded by Monday a total of 216 087 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 5 047 deaths.

Nearly three million people in the country had received their two jabs, while about four million had received the first jabs in the run-up to Christmas.

Authorities were bidding to have vaccinated 10 million people by the end of 2021 to reach much-needed national herd immunity.

All this also comes as the government has deferred the opening of non-examination classes, citing high coronavirus infections in the country which had seen an average of 20 people dying everyday in the last few weeks of December.

Addressing the nation on New Year’s Eve, Mnangagwa said the country was now in the grip of the Omicron Covid variant, which meant that it was dicey to allow schools to re-open as previously planned.

“The New Year, 2022, begins under the persistent shadow of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“The week closing the year has seen us record a total of 10 384 cases of infections and 142 deaths.

“These sombre statistics translate to an average 1 483 new cases of infections, and 20 deaths each day,” Mnangagwa said while extending the current national lockdown by a further two weeks.

“The last three days alone were especially dire, with some 2 000 new infection cases and 30 deaths recorded daily.

“Clearly, our nation is in the grip of an omicron variant-induced fourth wave, whose curve we continue to struggle to flatten.

“In view of this gloomy picture … the current level two national lockdown is extended by a further two weeks after which an appropriate review will be announced guided by a scientific appreciation of the obtaining situation,” Mnangagwa added.

“With the exception of examination classes which resume classes as announced by the responsible ministry, the general school calendar is hereby delayed until further notice.

“Examination classes exempt from this delay are, however, expected to strictly comply with preventive public health measures,” he also said.

Mnangagwa underlined that the economy would remain open, allaying fears of a possible re-introduction of a hard national lockdown.

He said businesses would continue to enjoy normal operating hours, with those companies that were able to allow some of their workers to work remotely being encouraged to do so. – Daily News