BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has put its health and security agencies on high alert over a looming and potentially more fatal third wave of COVID-19, with the Zanu PF leader yesterday pleading for increased uptake of the vaccination programme.
Health experts recently warned that the country might be hit by a more vicious variant of the respiratory disease after government eased the lockdown restrictions last month, leading to general complacency as citizens ignore safety protocols such as social distancing and wearing of face masks.
In a virtual address yesterday, Mnangagwa said his government was banking on mass vaccination and strict adherence to safety protocols to curb the spread of the disease.
“Since 2020, Zimbabwe has been fighting COVID-19. We have lost many of our loved ones and those who have survived are still coming to terms with the trauma,” Mnangagwa said.
“Our lives have changed as we adjust to the new normal. Many of you have been asking: ‘Is there a way out? Is there protection against COVID-19?’ I am here to tell you that you and I have a role to play.”
He added: “COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to Zimbabwe. These vaccines help minimise the risk of infection and are being administered all over Zimbabwe free of charge. So, get vaccinated now. This is our stand against COVID-19. Together,
we will conquer. Get vaccinated now.”
Last month, Mnangagwa courted the ire of human rights defenders after he threatened mandatory vaccination and warned that citizens without inoculation cards would in the future not be allowed into public places.
As at yesterday, only 36 283 frontline workers had been vaccinated with Sinopharm against a target of 100 000 people, with the majority said to be sceptical of the efficacy of the drug donated by China.
Chief co-ordinator of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic Agnes Mahomva told NewsDay that the country risked more waves as long as citizens do not comply with the prescribed World Health Organisation (WHO) safety measures.
She said her taskforce would be meeting today to deliberate on the way forward following a sudden increase in new infections, although the death rate remains still low.
“It is not about what government should do to curb the spread of coronavirus. The disease is not going away because of laid-out government policies, but it largely depends on community responsibility. As it is right now, we have gone back to the same situation we were in towards the end of the first wave where people dumped masks and disregarded social distancing.”
Some health experts yesterday suggested that the free vaccination programme should be extended to the other vulnerable groups since the frontliners were reluctant to take up the jab.
“The low uptake clearly shows that this group (frontline workers) is not interested in being inoculated. It will be wise to open it up for the next prioritised people like the elderly and people with comorbidities rather than letting it lie idle,” Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive Solwayo Ngwenya suggested.
But Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said without adequate information about the vaccine, uptake would still remain low, even if it were to be extended to the public.
“Frontline workers should be taking the lead in educating and encouraging the general public to embrace and take up the vaccine jab. It will be a huge challenge for the country to vaccinate the required 10 million people that will be willing to take a safe and effective vaccine so that the country can reach the required herd immunity,” he said.
“This shows that there is an information gap on vaccine literacy even among the health workers, resulting in low confidence and general poor trust in the vaccination roll-out programme.”
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe president Johannes Marisa concurred, saying the low uptake of the vaccine by health practitioners could lead to massive resistance as the public regards them as opinion leaders.
“It is wise for government to open up the vaccination to the other groups than remain rigid with its initial plan if the prioritised group is not willing. This will enable the nation to be well-prepared for the third wave, which is likely to hit the country soon.”
However, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary Norman Matara said it was not ideal to open up the vaccination programme to the public before covering frontline workers as they were at more risk of spreading the virus.
“Priority should continue to be given to those at risk of infection. Government should concentrate its efforts in increasing acceptance of the vaccines through mass media educational campaigns and also reining in religious leaders who are campaigning against the vaccines without any scientific basis,” he said.
Meanwhile, China has announced that foreigners wishing to apply for Chinese visas should be vaccinated with drugs from the Asian country, a move seen by observers as meant to promote use of its vaccines.
The Asian country is home to thousands of Zimbabweans who are studying and working there while many travel for business.
“Please be noted that the above-mentioned visa facilitation applies only to applicants who have been inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines produced in China (either having received two doses of Chinese-made vaccines with the stipulated gap in between, or having received a single-dose Chinese-made vaccine at least 14 days prior to the application) and obtained the vaccination certificate. A proof of a negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test result and the health and travel record declaration form for visa application are no longer required,” read part of the notice from Commissioner of Foreign Affairs ministry in the Hong Kong special administrative region.
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