Zim Marks One Year Since Recording First Covid-19 Case

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Zimbabwe on Friday marks one year since the first COVID-19 case was reported in the country.

The first reported case on March 20, 2020 was a resident of the resort city of Victoria Falls, who had earlier travelled to the United Kingdom on a business trip and showed symptoms a few days after his return.

Three days later, the pandemic claimed the life of media personality Zororo Makamba. Makamba, who was the second person to test positive locally, had just arrived back in Zimbabwe from a visit to the United States.

Since the first death, the country has recorded 1,509 deaths from 36,611 infections, with 34,226 recoveries as of March 18.

Unnerved by the presence of an invisible enemy and an unknown future, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced the imposition of a hard national lockdown starting March 30, 2020, including the closure of borders, schools, universities and colleges, banning of inter-city travel and restricting citizens to their homes most of the time.

Court proceedings were disrupted, government departments were ordered to operate with skeleton staff and companies were also closed down, except for those sectors offering essential services.

Attendances at church services and funerals were also restricted, while weddings, house parties and public gatherings were banned.

Most of the cases that were reported in the initial stages of the pandemic were imported and to a great extent the number of local infections remained low throughout the year with the lockdown holding.

However, the number of community infections crept up between December and January as people became relaxed in the festive mood and stopped observing preventive measures imposed by the government in line with World Health Organization (WHO) protocols.

The festive spirit also coincided with the re-opening of borders and an influx of people, especially from South Africa where the rate of infections is the highest in Africa.

The high number of infections and deaths at the beginning of the year pushed the government to impose a hard lockdown once more, resulting in the decline of figures.

The government has now decided on a phased re-opening of schools with examination classes having re-opened on March 15.

Universities will also re-open for face to face learning in the week beginning March 21 but will be required to follow WHO safety protocols, including social distancing, wearing of face masks, sanitizing and regular temperature checks.

However, despite the gains achieved, many people continue to disregard safety protocols and move around without wearing face masks properly, while shopping centers which had gone quiet are now teeming with people, among them public drinkers.

There are fears that a third wave can soon hit the country unless the police effectively deal with law breakers.

The assistance provided by China has boosted the confidence of the Zimbabwean government in fighting Covid-19.

The Chinese government donated a batch of the Sinopharm vaccine in February, followed by another similar donation on March 16.

A batch of the Sinovac vaccine bought by the Zimbabwean government was also delivered.

The Zimbabwean government is targeting to vaccinate about 10 million citizens (roughly about 60 percent of the population), hoping that this will help the country achieve herd immunity.

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga was the first Zimbabwean to be inoculated locally on Feb. 18 and got his second and final dose Thursday.

Chiwenga expressed confidence in the Sinopharm vaccine and said he was pleased with the rollout program which was being speeded up with the hiring of retired medical personnel to help with the inoculations.

Mnangagwa thanked China and acknowledged the deep friendship that exists between the two countries.

Since the pandemic hit Zimbabwe, China has also provided various forms of assistance, including provision of medical experts, testing kits, ventilators, face masks, personal protective equipment and renovation of health facilities to cater for patients.

Private companies have also come on board to facilitate the procurement of vaccines for employees and their immediate families.

The government has authorized them to import, but funds for the procurement will have to be channelled to the National Vaccine Procurement Fund which is being administered by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.

So far, the government has approved the use of four vaccines – Sinopharm and Sinovac from China, Covaxin from India and Sputnik V from Russia.

Although some people had initially been skeptical of the vaccines, the attitude appears to be changing as they gain confidence after realizing that those who have been vaccinated have not developed side effects.

To many, the vaccine has become the hope they need to overcome the pandemic.