By BRIGHTON MURONZEREYI
ZIMBABWE has finally scrapped the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors by fully vaccinated people as the coronavirus situation continues to improve.
Health experts recently urged the government to end the obligatory wearing of masks and also lift other Covid restrictions still in place to allow life to get back to normal and to boost the economy.
It also comes as many people have increasingly disregarded the directive to wear masks in public, with cheeky Zimbabweans often derisively referring to the accoutrements as “chin masks” — on account of many citizens not wearing them properly.
Speaking during a post-Cabinet media briefing in Harare yesterday, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the welcome decision had been taken in the light of continued decreases in new Covid-19 cases in the country.
“Noting the decrease in Covid-19 cases, Cabinet resolved that those who have received three doses of World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended vaccines are exempted from the mandatory wearing of face masks in outdoor public places, but should, however, wear face masks in indoor public places and in public transport.
“Those fully vaccinated should carry their vaccination cards all the time; that all provinces continue intensifying Covid-19 vaccination activities for the nation to achieve herd immunity; and that the country remains on high alert for other outbreaks such as the current measles, regional poliomyelitis and the global monkeypox outbreaks,” she said.
Mutsvangwa also noted that the government had generally managed to keep Covid-19 cases under control in all provinces countrywide.
“The overall number of new Covid-19 cases continued to decrease, with 57 cases being recorded compared to the 105 recorded the previous week, marking a 46 percent decline.
“An average of eight new cases were reported per day, compared to 15 the previous week. A total of 13 new admissions were recorded during the week, thereby reflecting a zero percent change from the previous week.
“Cabinet notes that the pandemic continues to be brought under control in most provinces, with Midlands being the only province that recorded a small increase in new cases over the past 14 days,” Mutsvangwa added.
Speaking recently to the Daily News’ sister paper, the Daily News On Sunday, health experts called on authorities to scrap the mandatory wearing of face masks and other Covid restrictions still in place, following a massive decline in new pandemic infections and deaths in the country.
They said then that the declining effects of the pandemic in the country justified the cancellation of all Covid measures still in place, to allow life to get back to normal and to boost the economy further.
This came after authorities had lifted most of the Covid restrictions in force, including curfews and those on public gatherings and business operating times, among others.
“It’s time we should consider scrapping the mandatory wearing of face masks, maybe unless and only if it is in congested areas.
“We can actually appreciate that the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic has decreased. We have been recording low cases and people are no longer worried about it anymore.
“Besides, many people have actually never worn them (masks) properly, and some were not even putting them on.
“So, the government should consider that it may be time to go back to normal life and understand that the disease will from now on be endemic,” the president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association (MDPPA), Joannes Marisa, said then.
On his part, the secretary of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, Norman Matara, also said the Covid-19 situation in the country showed that Zimbabwe had successfully navigated the “murky waters” that was the pandemic.
In that light, he added, it no longer made sense to keep the mandatory wearing of face masks in effect in the country.
“As a country, we have done exceptionally well when it comes to the fight against Covid-19. When we expected the worst, the country continued to record low cases.
“However good hygiene and sanitising are the things people should live with, because they assist in terms of reducing the spread of other diseases like cholera.
“I don’t see masks still serving the purpose they were meant to serve. Walk around the city now and you will see that people no longer wear masks, but just place them on their chins in fear of getting in trouble with law enforcers.
“So to make it mandatory for people to wear masks is just theoretical, but far away from being practical,” Matara observed.
On the other hand, the president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association, Enock Dongo, said although it was possible that face masks were no longer necessary, it was still important for people to get fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
“It is possible that masks are no longer necessary at this point, but we are not certain that the low cases we are seeing are because we no longer have Covid-19.
“It could just be that the variant we have now is less deadly. People could still be getting sick and not even knowing that they have Covid because the symptoms would be mild.
“So, I would say it is good to stop wearing masks when we have more of our people vaccinated with all jabs.
“Right now, the countries that are dropping face masks are those that have the majority of their population vaccinated, but that is not the case for Zimbabwe.
“Our people have become reluctant to get vaccinated, which is very dangerous,” Dongo said.
Meanwhile, neighbouring South Africa and other countries in Sadc and Europe have long discarded the mandatory wearing of masks following a significant decline in cases there.
More than 6 368 944 (about 57 percent of the targeted national people) have so far received their first dose of Covid-19 jabs, while 4 733 477 (about 42 percent) have received their second vaccines — and 937 898 (about 8,3 percent) have received their third shots. – Daily News