Covid-19 is making a comeback in Matabeleland region, a disturbing development given that the country had in the past few months witnessed a decline in new cases prompting Government to relax lockdown restrictions and re-opening schools as well as institutions of higher learning.
As of yesterday, Bulawayo and Matabeleland North had the highest number of active cases in Zimbabwe at 127 while Matabeleland South was third with 76.
The country has 521 active cases and 63 percent of these are in the three provinces of Matabeleland.
Bulawayo has been constantly recording an average of 10 cases daily for close to a month now and reports show that some of the affected are nurses from Mpilo Central Hospital.
On Tuesday, out of the three Covid-19 deaths that were recorded in the country, two were from Bulawayo.
Also, of the total 384 Covid-19 cases that were recorded in the past week nationwide, 75 percent were recorded in the three provinces of Matabeleland with Bulawayo leading in terms of deaths.
The three provinces recorded 291 cases and Matabeleland North was leading with 121 cases while Bulawayo and Matabeleland South had 99 and 71 respectively.
Matabeleland North province which for seven months had the least Covid-19 deaths and cases in the country, shot to the top this week when 100 pupils at John Tallach Secondary School contracted the virus.
In Matabeleland South, some businesses are said to have stopped sanitising people and checking temperatures which are some of the recommended measures meant to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Experts say the rise in cases in the region could be due to the fact that the three provinces are close to South Africa which remains the hardest hit country in Africa.
Health workers in the region are now very worried by the surge in Covid-19 cases which puts them at risk of contracting the virus.
Mpilo Central Hospital acting clinical director Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said seven staff members at the medical institution have recently tested positive.
Prof Ngwenya said the latest cases had prompted the hospital to test more workers as part of measures to contain the spread of the pandemic.
“Our fear is that unless the sitution is contained, we could soon be overwhelmed as health institutions by Covid-19 patients seeking treatment. We are at high risk compared to other regions because we are close to South Africa and if we are not careful we could become the source of the problem for the entire country,” said Prof Ngwenya.
He urged Government to consider shutting down churches, beerhalls and other such public places as part of measure to contain the spread of the pandemic.
“Our staff members are being infected by Covid-19 daily and it is very worrying because very soon we will be depleted in terms of staff and also in terms of the personal protective equipment. When more people fall sick and come to Mpilo with suspected Covid, we tend to consume a lot of PPE and that is why we have been preaching prevention as our only hope,” said Prof Ngwenya.
He said with no vaccine or cure Zimbabwe, like the rest of the world, is pinning its hopes on preventing the spread of the pandemic by adhering to all measures that have been jointly recommended by WHO and the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
“Going forward I would advise the Government to urgently consider a phased lockdown starting with shutting down churches, beerhalls and businesses that do not enforce social distancing. Schools are definitely hotspots so I know the authorities will want to keep them open but I can foresee a situation where the virus will force them to close them,” said Prof Ngwenya.
He said there might be a need to re-introduce the March lockdown restrictions if the the present trend continues.
Primary and Secondary Education Ministry spokesperson Mr Taungana Ndoro said at John Tallach Secondary School the standard operating procedures were being adhered to and the rapid response teams were monitoring the situation. The school is now a quarantine centre as the school authorities and health officials battle to ensure the outbreak at the school is contained.
Matabeleland North provincial, medical director Dr Munekayi Padingani said the outbreak at John Tallach had contributed to the rise in cases in the province.
He said although the first Covid-19 case in Zimbabwe was recorded in Victoria Falls, the province had managed to raise awareness which explains why it had the least cases and death before the recent outbreak at the school.
He said many people in the province are based in the rural areas hence the province had for the past seven months the least number of cases in the country.
“We had less than 150 cases until the recent outbreak at John Tallach. We are doing everything to contain the situation so that the virus does not spread to other areas outside the school, ” he said.
In Gwanda yesterday, the District taskforce committee on Covid-19 said business community had relaxed in terms of sanitizing people at the premises, checking temperature among others resulting in an increase in Covid-19 cases in the province.
During a meeting that was held yesterday with members of the business community, Officer-in-Charge Gwanda Urban Inspector John Mabhungu said there is now complacency.
“We are appealing to the business community to assist us in enforcing Covid-19 regulations. Businesses have relaxed as some of them are no longer sanitising customers, checking temperatures and practicing social distancing. Some are even allowing customers to enter their premises without masks.
“If a business person sees someone entering their premises without a mask, they shouldn’t allow them inside as they can be a threat to business and other customers. If businesses retain the strictness, they practiced during Level 4 of the lockdown then people will be forced to meet the set requirements. Let’s work together because the police and Ministry of Health can’t be present at all times hence may you do your part as the business community,” he said.