Candid Comment: New Covid-19 variant catches Zim off guard 

Source: Candid Comment: New Covid-19 variant catches Zim off guard – The Zimbabwe Independent

By Nevanji Madanhire

IT was first detected in Botswana; it is now in South Africa and as far afield as Hong Kong, therefore it is in Zimbabwe, obviously.

What is it?

This is not one of those riddles we throw at each other during idle moments.

This is serious business.

It has been reported that a new Covid-19 variant has been identified.

First discovered in Botswana only two weeks, it has already spread widely in South Africa.

A traveller from South Africa took it to Hong Kong.

Now Botswana is what we, in street parlance, call “our next door”, so is South Africa.

Hundreds of people cross our common borders daily, to and fro, meaning by all probability the variant has already slipped into Zimbabwe and in a matter of days our own medical personnel will have sequenced it too.

It has been named the B.1.1.529 but soon a moniker will be formulated for it to ostensibly remove the stigma that may be placed on Botswana.

The variant has sparked serious concern among some researchers because of the number of the mutations that may help it evade immunity.

It has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against Covid.

Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen.

It may be called rho or upsilon or whatever Greek letter has not been taken up by earlier variants, but the truth is, it has caught Zimbabweans in their moment of greatest weakness.

Scientists, though, say there is no reason to panic yet because it may turn out to be a kind of dud.

But this is a wake-up call.

Zimbabweans are notorious for their scepticism.

It took the serious carnage of the second wave of the virus to make them wake up to the reality of the Covid-19 menace.

But with 5 000 deaths across the country, many Zimbabweans are still not convinced they face any danger.

For starters the vaccination uptake has been pitiful; up to now only 18,6% of the population has been fully vaccinated despite the ready availability of the vaccines.

Of this percentage a huge number are government workers who had to be coaxed to take the jab otherwise they would never have.

It is not only the vaccine scepticism and hesitancy that have been the bane of the country’s fight against Covid-19; it has also been the reluctance to follow the strict protocols put in place to stem the spread of the virus.

As we speak, the majority of Zimbabweans have thrown caution to the wind and discarded their face masks and sanitisers. Forget about them observing social distancing!

Now that places the country in a fix.

We have to begin again to conscientise people on what has to be done and that is pretty disheartening.