458 days of the COVID-19 Lockdown, and as of 29th of June 2021, the Ministry of Health and Child Care reported that, the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases had increased to 48 533 after 1 249 new cases were reported, all local. The highest case tally was recorded in Mashonaland West with 387 cases. We note the absence of the status of previously marked localised lockdown communities which are hotspots of the third wave. The following hotspots updates are as follows; Mashonaland West Province- Magunje (28), Chidamoyo (30), Mashonaland Central – Centenary (29), Mashonaland East-Marondera (40), Masvingo Province- Chiredzi (48), Masvingo (12), Midlands – Zvishavane (61), Bulawayo Province – Nkulumane (14), Emakhandeni (17) and Northern Suburbs (55).
We note that the Hospitalisation rate as at 15:00hrs on the 28th of June 2021 were 360 hospitalised cases: 44 New Admissions, 62 Asymptomatic cases, 229 mild to moderate cases, 56 severe cases and 13 cases in Intensive Care Units. We note that Matebeleland South did not report.
Active cases go up to 8 849. The total number of recoveries went up to 38 323 increasing by 374 recoveries. The recovery rate goes down further, marginally, from 80% to 79%. A total of 6 461 people received their 1st doses of vaccine. The cumulative number of the 1st dose vaccinated now stands at 770 709. A total of 9 982 recipients received their second dose bringing the cumulative number of 2nd dose recipients to 544 888. The death toll goes up to 1 761 after 12 new deaths were recorded.
Critical emerging issues
Interventions on the High Costs of Testing for COVID-19
We highlight the reports and reality of the high costs of testing for COVID-19, in particular the PCR tests. We note the context presently include custodial sentences for travellers into Zimbabwe or leaving Zimbabwe who may present fake COVID-19 certificates. We note further, the rise of the infections, in hospitalisations and deaths of COVID-19 which require a re-prioritisation of the test and trace mechanisms.
We highlight the measures to support increased and accessible COVID-19 testing through the removal of customs duties for COVID-19 test kits as per Statutory Instrument 88 of 2020, Customs and Excise (General) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 (No. 101). Accordingly, we note further, reports that indicate that the widely used test kits imported from China namely the Nantong Diagnosis Covid-19 and Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test Kit, are being imported at between one US$1 dollar and US$10 for 1 000 units. These costs are in stark contrast to the actual costs of testing in Zimbabwe which range between USD$50 to USD75 per test. We further highlight the limited reach of testing which is relying on areas where pre-identified cases are present and not proactively seeking or ensuring other hotspots are detected through the normal testing of citizens.
- We call for the reduction of test costs to ensure that private sector and the general socio-economic activities which encourage testing are accessible through affordable testing services to communities.
- We reiterate our call for Government to intervene in this public health emergency and actively ensure that reduction of testing costs throughout Zimbabwe
Long Queues at Vaccine Centres
We highlight the congestion and long queues at various vaccine centres as reported by our networks. We note further that the delivery of vaccine doses has also resulted in an uptake of vaccination, driven by persons who were unable to access vaccines due to the shortages experienced in the past weeks.
We highlight reports of citizens queuing for over 6 to 8 hours to access vaccines and the challenges encountered regards to queue management and physical distancing.
- We call for improved management of Vaccine centres. The policy direction regarding COVID-19 is to prioritise vaccination which requires equitable attention to be paid to both administrative and operational matters pertaining to the effectiveness and efficiency of vaccine centres.
- We recommend additional personnel and an increase in vaccine points to ensure rapid servicing of vaccine candidates.
- We call for smooth rolling out of the vaccination points at Tobacco Floors, Grain Depots and collection Points, cotton floors and other socio-economic markets with a view of anticipated high numbers of vaccine candidates.
Increasing to Level 4 Lockdown and Expanded COVID-19 Containment Measures
We note the announcement of the general restrictions in Zimbabwe which have been increased to level 4. While we appreciate that the measures are directed at the containment of COVID-19 which has recorded increased infections, increased hospitalisations and increased fatalities in the recent days, we register our displeasure over announcements that are made “with immediate effect”, without giving citizens reasonable time to prepare.
We are concerned with the announcement by Government to the effect that frontline workers who have not been vaccinated will note receive COVID-19 pay-outs. We highlight that this measure raises problems in light of the rights of workers and their rights to make choices over their bodies.
- We call instead for increased training and support to frontline workers who have legitimate questions on the present vaccines to ensure greater numbers of persons are vaccinated.
We also note the following additional containment measures announced by Government:
Decongestion of workplaces
We recognise the target to decongest workplaces to 40% of staff including industry which has previously been operating at full capacity. We believe that this will support decongestion of public transport nodes as demand will be slightly reduced. In addition, the reduction of operating hours for business to 08:00hrs to 15:30hrs is an additional step to decongest the demand for the public transport system which is a high risk arena for the transmission of COVID-19.
- We call for the increased flexibility of ZUPCO timetables and the increased frequency of ZUPCO buses to ensure that the operating hours of business are supported by the operating hours and service capacity of the largest only public transport operator in the country.
In addition, we note that ‘Commercial transport’ will continue to operate. Once again, we critique such blanket labelling of the commercial sector transportation without clear guidelines on what is meant by this term.
- We once again call for specifics regarding their operations to ensure communities are not subject to arbitrary enforcement measures and to avoid rent seeking activities by enforcement officers.
Curfew and Intercity travel
While noting the restatement of the 6:30pm to 6:00am curfew, we continue to urge human rights-based approach to its enforcement.
We further note the restrictions on Intercity travel which has been prohibited except for food and medicine deliveries.
- We continue to call for screening facilities to be established on major highways to support infection control measures as those who are on the essential services lists in the agricultural sector are the same communities who have largely been excluded from the bio-medical efforts towards curbing COVID-19.
Travelling and Quarantine of returning citizens
We note that deported citizens will be quarantined. We call for Government to fully expand this provision by announcing whether Quarantine centres for returnees are being fully restored and further the commitment of Treasury to support these centres especially in cases where persons returning as deportees are financially indigent and have limited social support.
Whilst we note that the COVID-19 measures make direct reference to the quarantining of citizens from countries registering the Alpha (first identified in the UK) and Delta (first identified in India) COVID-19 variants;
- We reiterate our calls upon Government, for the avoidance of doubt, to openly list countries with the above variants for Zimbabwe specifically and directly.
We further note the financial burden on Travellers from countries with the Alpha and Delta variants who will be subject to 4 tests on the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 10th day of quarantine.
- We continue to call for the announcement of the system to ensure that self-quarantined travellers are indeed monitored and regularly checked so as to avoid abuse of the system or loopholes which may reduce the efforts to ensure effective infection control.
We note the reiteration that traveling with a fake COVID-19 certificate attracts a custodial sentence and as such we call for strengthened measures to ensure detention centres and holding cells are supported to readiness to address the infection control of COVID-19 in this controlled population.
Blitz COVID-19 Vaccination campaign
We commend the changes in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign which will now directly target tobacco auction floors, GMB depots, cotton depots, major construction sites and socio-economic markets such as Renkini in Bulawayo and Mbare in Harare.
- We believe this will go a long way in ensuring wide population reach in relation to vaccination.
Deployment of MPs and Ministers
Whilst we commend the dispatching of Ministers and MPs to disseminate information and support the COVID-19 vaccination drive efforts, we call for the greatest adherence to social distancing, hand sanitization and proper mask wearing by political representatives whilst on duty.
- Particularly, we wish to caution MP and Ministers to observe the COVID-19 safety protocols, highlighting that this is not an opportunity for gathering thousands of community members and embarking on political campaign rallies. It is important for MPs to ensure prioritisation of the safety of their constituencies they serve.
- We note this deployment and at the same time question the lack of direct efforts to support councillors in wards which are closely linked with communities and have received limited support in reporting their community needs to the COVID 19 support structures.
- We continue to call for greater support to the participation and representation of women specifically in the COVID-19 response be it in formal COVID-19 taskforce teams or in support measures.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ)