BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
CHURCHES have been given the greenlight to reopen for sit-in services but only to fully vaccinated congregants, government announced last night.
Addressing a post-Cabinet media briefing, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said church leaders who violate the regulations would be arrested and that the government would deploy health officials to screen the congregants.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Monday extended level four lockdown restrictions by two more weeks.
Mutsvangwa said there was a 42% decrease in the number of new infections and deaths in the past week which proved that the current preventive measures were effective.
“Cabinet wishes to inform the public that churches can now allow sit-in congregants, but only congregants who have received two doses of the vaccine are allowed to attend,” Mutsvangwa said.
“All Ministry of Health and Child Care and World Health Organisation protocols are adhered to. All those found in breach will be arrested, including the leaders of the churches. Vaccination in border towns, other hotspots and peoples’ markets is progressing as scheduled. Two million syringes were procured from Sinopharm of China and received on August 7, 2021.”
She said Midlands province was experiencing another surge of new cases and the government would put in place measures to contain the virus in the area and other hotspots.
Government is targeting to vaccinate 10 million people, which is 60% of the population, to achieve herd immunity by October this year, although health experts say the emergence of new variants such as the Delta strain had rendered herd immunity irrelevant.
According to statistics released by the Health ministry as of Tuesday, 912 592 people had received their first dose against 1 061 238 who had been fully vaccinated.
Delta Beverages and several other companies have threatened to bar unvaccinated workers from reporting for work.
Cabinet’s decision to reopen the churches to vaccinated congregants comes at a time when thousands of Zimbabweans due for their second dose are
reportedly being turned away from nearby vaccination centres and referred to the centres they got their first doses from.
This has triggered fears the country may fail to reach the vaccination target.
Some members of the public, who spoke to NewsDay after having been turned away at local clinics in Harare, said they could not afford to travel to the vaccination centres where they got their first jabs, thereby depriving them of the opportunity to be fully vaccinated within the stipulated period.
Some said they had permanently relocated from areas where they got their first jabs and had no access to the vaccination centres where they were initially inoculated. They also cited COVID-19 restrictions that prohibit intercity travel.
Others said the vaccines from which they got their first doses were not available at their vaccination centres which resulted in delays.
“I got my first jab in Goromonzi where I had visited a relative and I cannot afford to go back to get my second one,” Mavis Murisa said.
“It may mean that I may not be able to get fully vaccinated. I have been to three different health institutions here in Harare, but I have been told that I should go back to the vaccination centre in Goromonzi where I got my first shot.”
The vaccination programme is underway with doses of the Sinovac, Sinopharm, Covaxin and Sputnik V vaccines, which all require individuals to get two shots for effective immunity.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said people in marginalised communities were facing challenges to acquire their second doses due to logistical challenges.
“The vaccines being currently administered in Zimbabwe require two doses and this has been causing logistical challenges for people in rural areas and marginalised communities, with some people failing to take up their second jab, thereby increasing the likelihood of incomplete vaccination,” Rusike said.
“We are still struggling at 6% since the national vaccination roll-out programme started in February when the target to reach the required herd immunity is 60%.”
Health deputy minister John Mangwiro said he was in a meeting when he was contacted for comment, but last week, then Health acting minister Amon Murwira said there was no harm if people delayed getting the second dose.
He said the delay could actually work in their favour, making sure the second dose will be more effective in the body. He was speaking in Parliament.
However, Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive Solwayo Ngwenya urged people to ensure that they get their second doses when they are due to enhance their effectiveness.
“People must not default to getting their second doses. Second doses help boost the antibodies to secure an immunity that can fight the virus,” Ngwenya said.
“Antibodies from a single dose alone will be too low to fight coronavirus, hence such individuals (with single doses) would not be completely protected against the virus.”
Meanwhile, Mutsvangwa also said assessment for the safe reopening of schools was in progress.
“Assessments on the state of preparedness for the safe reopening of schools is ongoing across all provinces,” she said.
“The Primary and Secondary Education ministry has redoubled efforts towards the targeted provision of tents, additional furniture, reliable water sources, ablution facilities, and the decongestion of teacher accommodation. Testing for COVID-19 is also being escalated in communities.”