BY RICHARD MUPONDE / HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
ZIMBABWE recorded an unprecedented record high 60 COVID-19 deaths in 24 hours on Monday, a situation that has forced health experts to conclude that this could just be a tip of an iceberg, considering that collation of data on the pandemic has not been very efficient.
Around 773 deaths have been recorded in the country since the first case of the deadly respiratory virus was confirmed last year.
Health experts yesterday told NewsDay that the latest rise in the number of people succumbing to the virus could be heralding the beginning of catastrophe ahead, as the country struggles with a health sector which is in comatose, and people that have continued to defy COVID-19 lockdown regulations, as well as safety precautions.
In its COVID-19 situational report update, the Health ministry said on Monday that the country recorded 689 new cases of the virus, out of a total 27 892 infections.
The 689 new cases were all said to be local infections, and health analysts said that revealed that people in the country should not continue to underestimate the effects of the second wave of COVID-19.
“All 689 are local cases with 339 of them being from Harare. The cumulative cases curve is spiking. The national case fatality rate now stands at 2,8 % as at January 18, 2021. Harare reported the highest number of cases today, 339. A total of 60 COVID-19 deaths were reported today, and 37 of the deaths occurred at institutional level, with 23 being recorded at community level,” the ministry’s update read.
It further said that on Monday, all provinces in the country reported COVID-19 cases.
Health expert and Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Solwayo Ngwenya said the COVID-19 statistics of Monday were a reflection of how the virus continued to spread deep into communities.
He said if serious precautions were not taken to prevent the further spread of the virus, people would end up dying in large numbers.
“Unfortunately, this is actually the beginning of a terrible catastrophe that is going to happen. We have relaxed too much and we have underestimated the virus.
We have now allowed the virus to penetrate deep into communities, and it is now widespread and is all over the place,” Ngwenya said.
“Relatives, who accompany sick people to hospitals and those that continue to hold funeral vigils, are most likely to spread the virus. The deaths start to multiply from there onwards. The attitudes and the behaviour of the population are very appalling,” he said.
Ngwenya said COVID-19 was a new virus, adding that at the moment nobody had a defence against it, which meant that there was a need to prevent its spread.
“The key point is prevention, and that is why I take my time to explain it in newspapers,” he said.
Another medical expert, Johannes Marisa, who is interim president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association, said the number of COVID-19 deaths could be more than the published figures, considering that data collection was not as efficient as expected.
“We need to put a margin of error. Remember complacency, ignorance and denialism is contributing to these deaths. We need to clamp down on these factors.
Denialism is leading to late presentation to hospitals, with patients seeking treatment when they already have complications,” he said.
“We, therefore, need robust testing, more health education, correct information dissemination and social media has been awash with negative perceptions about public hospitals, which sometimes isn’t true.”
Itai Rusike, the executive director of the Community Working Group on Health, said vaccinating a significant proportion of the population was the only realistic way to arrest the spread of the pandemic.
“The people of Zimbabwe will now need to show great vigilance and social solidarity if we are to slow the rate of infection and ensure that our health facilities do not continue to be overwhelmed. The long-term effects of COVID-19 still remain to be seen,” Rusike said.
He said the collective insecurity generated by the pandemic requires a decisive public health response.
Rusike said on the other hand, the pandemic offered an important opportunity to demonstrate that alternative, people-centred, democratic and collective responses were possible and essential, not just to prevent and contain infection, but to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
He said there was need to build back a stronger, more compassionate and equity-driven form of public health system in the country.
Chief co-ordinator of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Agnes Mahomva, said they were still looking into the issue of numbers.
“We have a large number of cases and the number of infections is increasing. We are actually looking at it, and we will come back to you with information when we have properly arranged our figures,” she said.