BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA /PHYLLIS MBANJE/HARRIET CHIKANDIWA/ HAZVINEI MWANAKA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday imposed mandatory quarantine for returning citizens and foreigners entering the country and tightened lockdown measures amid concern over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.
Scientific evidence suggests Omicron, detected in Botswana and South Africa recently, has a higher re-infection risk.
The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Rwanda and the European Union have all restricted travel from southern Africa.
Addressing the nation yesterday, Mnangagwa said all travellers to Zimbabwe were supposed to be in possession of a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction test result and undergo mandatory quarantine regardless of the result.
“What raises our concern, and adds to our anxieties is the outbreak of a new strain, Omicron, detected and reported in neighbouring countries only a few days ago,” Mnangagwa said.
“We face a new, added risk which compounds the burden we already face and shoulder from known variants we have been grappling (with) since the outbreak of the pandemic.
“It is in this view of the new ominous development that government has decided on new enhanced measures to strengthen our national response and to protect our nation from the impact of a likely fourth wave, which the new variant, Omicron, will most certainly aggravate.”
Under the new measures, shops open from 7am to 7pm, while the curfew will run from 9pm to 6am.
Night clubs and bars will open to vaccinated clients only and restaurants will close at 7pm, while funerals will be supervised by Health ministry environmental officers and technicians.
No liquor will be consumed at bottlestores.
The measures will be reviewed in two weeks, the President said.
Zimbabwe is currently under level 2 lockdown and has this week recorded a steady increase in COVID-19 cases with 100 Masvingo Teachers’ College students testing positive to the virus on Monday.
While the country’s daily average infection rates have been hovering around 30 to 40 new infections daily, this peaked on Monday after the country recorded 253 new cases, all local, amid fears that the fourth wave of the pandemic might hit the country by Christmas.
Director of Laboratory Services in the Health ministry, Raiva Simbi, yesterday told NewsDay that they were carrying out genomic sequencing of samples from the affected students at Masvingo Teachers’ College to find out if the emerging Omicron variant had already hit the country.
“Currently, we are sequencing samples from Masvingo and others from Harare. The sequencing process is long, but we will get the results soon, in a couple of days,” Simbi said.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe president Johannes Marisa said: “We are studying the COVID-19 situation as cases start going up. We are very much alert about the situation on the ground.”
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is said to have severely hit the tourism sector hard as it has recorded a slump in tourist figures.
In his 2022 national budget presentation, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube expressed concern over the effects of the pandemic on tourism.
He set aside $3,7 billion for the sector’s revival.
“The tourism sector was most affected under the COVID-19 conditions and will require more support for its recovery, hence implementation of the National Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy is receiving higher priority in the national budget,” Ncube said.
National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe Masvingo regional director Lovemore Mandima said the drop in figures was due to travel bans and lockdowns as tourism is about movement of people.