New Covid-19 scare, WHO urges government to scale up containment measures

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By Staff Reporter

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has noted a resurgence of Covid-19 cases following this year’s Hajj, with a letter to Zimbabwe’s Health Ministry urging the government to scale up containment measures.

Close to two million Muslims attended this year’s Hajj, an annual pilgrimage by Muslims to the Holy City of Mecca, raising concerns pilgrims were at risk of spreading the virus in their home countries upon return.

The 2024 Hajj was held between June 14 and 19.

These concerns come when Zimbabwe is battling to contain a problematic influenza that has already claimed lives.

“WHO has received a reported rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in some countries among pilgrims returning from the recent Hajj in Mecca,” reads the letter sent to Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Aspect Maunganidze on July 2, 2024.

“Countries with returning pilgrims carry a risk of a rise in new Covid-19 infections. All countries concerned have been advised to heighten their readiness measures in case of a surge in cases.”

According to online reports, Senegal, which had sent some 12,900 pilgrims to the Hajj, has recorded 78 cases of the deadly virus on their return at its Blaise Diagne International Airport.

The letter, gleaned by this publication, recommended increased surveillance, five-day quarantine periods and immediate public awareness.

“Heighten Covid-19 surveillance by screening at the points of entry to identify (symptomatic) infected persons,” the letter reads.

“Knowing that the majority of cases may be asymptomatic and in view of limited testing advise all returnees to self-isolate for five days for those without symptoms and seven days for those with symptoms.

“Develop and run appropriate messages on electronic billboards at the airports on the current situation, risk of infection, prevention and where to seek care if sick.”

Government was also urged to notify health facilities of the risk.

Added the letter: “Notify health facilities of the potential increase in cases and the need for a raised index of suspicion for Covid-19 especially in situations with limited testing capacity.”

Covid-19 virtually shut down most operations across the globe, with lockdowns announced at least three months after its initial breakout from China’s Wuhan province in December 2019.

Only essential service providers were allowed to travel, not just within Zimbabwe but worldwide, with cross-border travel heavily restricted.