BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
HEALTH experts have warned of a deadlier fourth wave of COVID-19 in the forthcoming festive months of December and January, saying the high temperatures being experienced in the country were unlikely to curb the spread of new variants, hence the need to adhere to prescribed safety protocols.
The warning comes at a time when Zimbabwe’s major political parties are holding large gatherings with the majority of the attendees seen not observing safety measures, although the parties insist that they are sticking to safety measures.
Last week, thousands of Zanu PF supporters converged at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport to welcome President Emmerson Mnangagwa on his return from the COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Video evidence showed that most of the Zanu PF supporters were not wearing face masks.
The following day, Mnangagwa went to Bulawayo where he addressed thousands of supporters reportedly ferried by buses from different provinces to welcome him at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport.
Opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa has since last month been criss-crossing the country’s rural areas drumming up support ahead of the 2023 elections, while MDC-T president Douglas Mwonzora has also been holding party meetings.
Zimbabwe is under level 2 COVID-19 lockdown which limits gatherings to 100 people.
Although the country has of late been recording low daily infections and deaths, health analysts warned against complacency which they said was creeping in and could trigger a health crisis.
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive Solwayo Ngwenya said while the government-run vaccination programme had been effective, it would be stalled by complacency.
“High temperatures that we are recording have no impact on new variants of the fourth wave. What is critical about this virus and its variants is the human-to-human contact. Once you allow the population to mix and mingle freely, the virus spreads slowly reaching a peak after two to three months, then causing death and pandemonium.
“Most people sleep walk into this phase only to ‘wake up’ when it’s too late. The fourth wave will, unfortunately, be hitting us in December and January when the weather will be hot. The call to social distance, hand-sanitise, and wear face masks properly must be reinforced,” Ngwenya said.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said political leaders should stop addressing unvaccinated supporters and encourage them to get their jabs first and observe COVID-19 protocols.
“It is very sad and unfortunate that political parties are disregarding the preventive measures that have been put in place by the government. What we are seeing at political gatherings are ingredients of a fourth wave of COVID-19 currently brewing at a time when other countries are battling a new mutant Delta variant,” Rusike said.
National COVID-19 taskforce chief co-ordinator Agnes Mahomva said: “We continue to enforce the COVID-19 regulations and we have law enforcement agents who are guarding against violations of protocols. I would not comment on political gatherings which I am not aware of.”
Zanu PF acting spokesperson Michael Bimha said: “Zanu PF is cognisant of the need to curb coronavirus, which is why we held our conference, which usually attracts hundreds, under strict protocols. We had the Health minister, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga educating delegates at the conference about the need to continue to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. We have been doing a lot, which includes vaccination awareness campaigns to fight the pandemic. As of the gatherings at the airport, I don’t have the details because I was not there.”
MDC Alliance deputy spokesperson Gift Siziba said his party had been strict on the number of people that Chamisa addresses.
“Our videos which are circulating on social media can attest to that. We have ensured that our people, who would always be masked up, do not exceed 100. We are a conscious party which knows that we cannot put the lives of the ordinary people at risk,” Siziba said.