EXECUTIVE director of the World Health Organisation’s emergencies programme Dr Mike Ryan said on February 28 that the global risk of the spread and impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) was “every high”, the highest level of alarm.
“We have been dealing with this virus for two months and I think this is a reality check for every government on the planet — wake up, get ready,” Ryan said, adding that: “You have a duty to your citizens. You have a duty to the world to be ready.”
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel impressed upon the country’s 87 million people on Wednesday that they face their gravest crisis since World War II.
“It is serious,” she said.
“Take it seriously.” This was after she played what critics described as an “invisible role” and German was criticised for a slow and haphazard response, lacking in central leadership.
The coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, some three months ago, has killed over 9 000 people and infected around 220 000. Around 176 countries have registered Covid-19 cases.
In the United States, 155 people have died and it has spread to all the 50 states. The US was ill-prepared for the pandemic. Closer to home, Covid-19 cases have jumped to 150 in South Africa, while Zambia recorded its first two cases on Wednesday.
Zimbabwe has not reported any cases as of yet, but the fear is that the country is not prepared to deal with such a pandemic. President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week declared coronavirus a national disaster.
He appealed to foreigners planning to visit Zimbabwe to postpone their plans for at least 30 days and advised against unnecessary travel by Zimbabweans.
Government also postponed celebrations of the country’s 40th Independence anniversary and banned gatherings of more than a 100 people by churches or at social events. Also in the region, Namibia has closed schools for 30 days and banned all mass gatherings, while Zambia imposed restrictions on all foreign travel by nationals and advised people who returned from abroad to self-quarantine. South Africa has declared a disaster and implemented strict measures, including travels bans, as well as school closures, after infections increased to more than 60. It also closed 35 of its 72 land ports.
While Mnangagwa has said government would escalate the country’s response, the measures put in place do not seem adequate. Driving through Mbare’s Mupedzanhamo flea market and Magaba and watching a crowd of informal traders and buyers, you get a knot in your stomach and a sick feeling that the country will not be able to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
You just know then that if the coronavirus strikes Zimbabwe, it will kill A lot of people. The most vulnerable being the poorer communities dotted around the country and families in crowded settlements, who often live in cramped dwellings with no water supplies.
Simple suggestions to fight coronavirus — like washing hands regularly — present serious challenges, as most parts in Harare and other towns are facing a severe water crisis. Many residents rely on open wells and boreholes scattered around the suburbs and have to queue for hours each day to get the precious liquid. Social distancing strategies are difficult to implement when the majority of people rely on the congested Zupco buses and commuter omnibuses for public transport.
Worsening the Zimbabwean situation is the impact the coronavirus has on people living with HIV. Zimbabwe has 1,3 million people living with HIV. The country needs to immediately implement strict measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, including imposing travel bans of foreigners from high risk countries, restrict travel to countries hard-hit by the virus and ban all gatherings, including parties and at nightclubs. School should be closed immediately.
The government should avail more isolation and treatment centres, adequate kits and other accessories for screening, handling, testing and treatment.
We should learn from the mistakes of other countries like the US, which now has recorded
9 000 coronavirus infections, with its hospitals already sounding the alarm on quickly vanishing supplies as the outbreak in the US shows no signs of slowing.
As a Zimbabwean, I am very afraid of what is to come when the coronavirus infection hits the country.