Dr Masimba Mavaza
Zimbabweans in the United Kingdom are experiencing the saying “it never rains” as the country has been placed right back in the red list after a new Covid-19 variant emerged in South Africa.
Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia were moved onto the red list at 12pm yesterday.
This means there is now a ban on all direct commercial and private flights from these countries.
Those who have been in any of these countries and arrive in England between 12pm yesterday and 4am on Sunday will follow special guidance on how to complete the passenger locator form.
They will be asked to quarantine at home or at alternative appropriate accommodation. They will be offered a free PCR tests to take during quarantine.
After 4am tomorrow, there may be mandatory quarantine in a managed hotel.
This means people will book a quarantine hotel package, including two Covid-19 tests, before they arrive in England.
This has impacted greatly on Zimbabweans who have booked for flights to Zimbabwe to be together with their families during Christmas.
If you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the 10 days before you arrive in England, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you either are a British or Irish national or have residence rights in the UK.
This will mean those who had booked to visit their children or relatives in the UK will not be allowed to come to the UK.
The whole of Europe is witnessing a growing death toll from Covid-19 as Zimbabwe is punished for a very minimal number of new infections.
The coronavirus outbreak has turned into a global pandemic as the world writhes under the heavy onslaught of its population.
But the pointing of fingers to Africa and place Southern Africa into a red zone is political vindictive and not about health care.
There are countries which have the highest rate of infections, but they have a green passage into Britain.
Thousands of people are dying because of this virus, yet the hard measures are piled on Africa.
The strict rules are that if you live in England, you should not travel to countries or territories on the red list.
Which simply means Zimbabweans who planned to travel home from England are once again put on hold.
There are different rules for entering England if you have not been to a red list country or territory. Most of the non-red zones are not African countries.
Before you travel to England you must take a Covid-19 test three days before, book a quarantine hotel package, including two Covid-19 tests and complete a passenger locator form.
You must do this even if you are fully vaccinated.
When you arrive in England, you must quarantine in a managed hotel, and take two COVID-19 tests.
For the first time in the history of the pandemic, children aged 11 to 17 are forced to take a Covid-19 test in the three days before travel to England.
On arrival in England, children aged 5 to 17 must quarantine in a managed hotel for 10 full days and take two tests.
Children aged 4 or under do not have to take any travel tests, but must enter managed quarantine.
This system introduced by the UK is yet another attempt to contain and mitigate the effects of Covid-19, but it is surprising that Africa gets the brunt of these measures.
The system assigned the status of either red, amber or green to other countries with each colour indicating different rules for a range of things, including terms of travel and quarantine requirements.
So, Zimbabwe, which has seen a great decline in the Covid-19 cases, is rewarded with a red card.
Attempting to determine the justification for the lists and accurate details about them is less than straightforward.
The rules for which countries are in or out is far from transparent, making it difficult to find any justification why a country is placed on the red list and, perhaps more importantly, how they get off it.
Of the 54 countries which were on the red list 22 (approximately 41 percent) are from sub-Saharan Africa. Put another way, of the 48 countries making up the sub-Saharan region, 21 (approximately 44 percent) are on the UK’s red list.
The reasons given by the UK include: known variants of concern; known high-risk variants that are under investigation; and very high in-country or territory prevalence of Covid-19.
These justifications are difficult to understand on a number of levels. The revised rules reported on the UK government’s website are similarly opaque.
Just take the issue of variants.
An important feature about viruses like Covid-19 is that mutations are a natural phenomenon. Some mutations present additional risks, but many are inconsequential.
And, of course, knowledge about the variants present in any country at any particular time depends entirely on the accuracy and extent of testing taking place.
This is just one reason why the red list has kicked up a storm, with some recommending that it be “scrapped in its entirety”.
In South Africa, scientists have been critical of the reasons cited as justification for retaining their country on the red list.
When the UK’s red list is considered at perhaps a more granular level, the difficulties become immediately apparent.
Two scenarios point to the flawed logic being applied.
Zimbabwe is on the red list together with South Africa, yet the Covid-19 numbers of the two countries tell a different story.
Current estimates are that South Africa has a daily rate of new confirmed cases per thousand of 30 percent, Zimbabwe’s rate is less at 0.001 percent.
On top of this, Zimbabwe’s rate of total vaccinations per 100 is 9.5, South Africa’s is much lower at 0.84.
Zimbabwe has a rate of total deaths per thousand of 0.00, while South Africa’s rate is 10.36.
At the end of November, South Africa has confirmed the presence of the new variant, while the spread of the variant in Zimbabwe had not been confirmed.
So, why is it necessary to paint Zimbabwe red?
One may well question what these data tell us about the two countries.
It is very hard to make firm conclusions in the absence of information about the health systems and other important factors in the two countries.
Comparisons become difficult and somewhat arbitrary.
This is precisely the problem with the red list.
The biggest problem we have with UK is that they seriously think that Zimbabwe is a province of South Africa.
They will feel embarrassed if Zimbabwe is to prove that it is better than South Africa in the fight against Covid.
Is it a case of cherry-picking the data?
At the very least, it indicates an opaqueness to decision-making that should be unacceptable in an era of rigorous scientific thinking and evidence-based policy making.
When difficulties arise, we need to raise, rather than lower, the bar of our standards of what counts as credible evidence.
Putting Zimbabwe on the red zone smacks of racism.
The rules around the red list and vaccination status is equally baffling and difficult to fathom.
The UK government website states that as from 4am on 26 October, you will qualify as fully vaccinated according to two criteria.
The first specifies an approved vaccination programme from a small number of countries. The second stipulates a full course of one of four named vaccines from a “relevant public health body” in 18 different countries.
None are in Africa.
Also, from that date if you have been to a red list country in the last 10 days, you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you are a British or Irish national or if you have residence rights in the UK.
Zimbabwe is a country that acted swiftly and decisively with clear and transparent leadership from the earliest indications of the monumental significance of the virus.
Despite all this, you will be unable to visit the UK under any conditions.
Dr Murandu from Bristol England said: “It is unfathomable to me how this can be achieving anything other than an exacerbation of existing inequities. What possible difference can it make where I had my vaccinations?
“Is there some reason that being vaccinated in Rwanda or South Africa is inferior to being vaccinated in Barbados?”
In fact, the World Health Organisation recently commended Zimbabwe’s vaccination drive.
Yet it remains on the UK’s red list and Zimbabwe is not listed as a country with an approved vaccination programme.
More fancy footwork with numbers perhaps? Or simply skewed thinking.
The World Health Organisation is clear that vaccination will not bring an end to this pandemic until it is distributed to everyone around the world.
Yet some countries, predominantly high-income ones, are stock-piling far more vaccines than they need and providing booster shots to people who don’t require them.
Covid-19 is providing us with opportunities to learn a great many things about health and health systems.
But perhaps it’s most valuable lesson is the inescapable importance of equity to the global community. That lesson is ignored at the peril of us all.
Maybe rather than focusing on a red list country with unclear and questionable criteria, we should create a red list of countries that are actively creating vaccine distribution inequities.
Only a few are being recorded and passed on as statistics.
Some countries hide the figures in order to protect their images.
Many nurses in Europe, moreso in England, are contracting this disease while an estimation of four in every seven health workers have the virus.
But in a bid to avoid panic, the figures are greatly played down.
In England, people are advised to quarantine themselves and are asked to come to hospital only when they get serious.
The actual number of the infected will never be known since only the few who end up in hospitals are recorded.
WHO has said the outbreak, which has been teetering on the verge of a pandemic for weeks, had now surpassed the level of epidemic and warned the worst was still to come.
The UK is experiencing a rise in the infected and the dying.
Germany has reported a huge spike in cases, taking the official toll to unimagined figures — mind you these are only those that were reported to the authorities.
The UN health body, which has previously described the situation as a “public health emergency of international concern”, defines a pandemic as an epidemic that spreads throughout the world through local transmission.
No one is immune to Covid-19.
All measures to prevent the spread of the virus must be taken seriously; but this must not show the inequality and discrimination, it must mend it.
So many Zimbabweans will suffer from home sickness which is the distress caused by being away from home during this festive season.
Home sickness is a feeling of stress or anxiety caused by separation from people and places that you know.
It is already worse that you are abroad, but being now painted red is the dilemma of the Zimbabweans in the UK.