Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THE Government has said it is monitoring the new Covid-19 variant that has been detected in South Africa and Botswana with a view of coming up with a way of controlling the spread of the virus ahead of the festive season where thousands of locals based in the two neighbouring countries are set to visit families back home.
As such, the Government is now collecting information based on genomic sequencing in regard to Covid-19.
The new variant, B1.1.529 (Omicron) has not yet been detected in Zimbabwe but the country is on high alert.
Genomics is the study of genes. Viruses, however, move from one place to another so when scientists sequence, they can track where a particular virus is emanating from. The template differs from one place to another and scientists can also see how the virus has changed in structure over time, experts have said.
Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care Dr John Mangwiro told Sunday News yesterday that the country was on course in tracking the patterns of the virus following reports of the new variant last week.
“We are waiting to do our genomic sequencing to see what is happening, we move with science to determine a lot.
What is critical is to get vaccinated, social distancing, hand washing and wearing of masks correctly,” he said.
Asked on the possibility of reopening of the ports of entry to allow general human traffic ahead of the Christmas holidays, Dr Mangwiro said the country was yet to make any pronouncements. The borders are only open for cargo, Zimbabweans returning home and those with work or study permits outside the country.
“We will see how our records come out to be and we see the situation, we do not want to rush to make announcements without any scientific appreciation of the situation. We will just follow science for now,” said Dr Mangwiro.
He said people must avoid going to gatherings and crowds and should follow set protocols on the prevention of the spread of Covid-19. Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said communities must protect themselves from the new variant.
“This time around people have to be more careful and pay more attention because viruses depend on human-to-human contact. I urge people to social distance, avoid gatherings and too much close contact with each other. This variant appears to be a completely new virus to us and will make some cases difficult to detect and cause a lot of problems for us. It will be spreading without us knowing so people must mask up. People have gone back to clubbing, attending events, the complacency is unbelievable,” he said.
Most European countries have reacted to the new variant by banning direct flights from most countries in Southern Africa including Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, our Harare Bureau reports that government has set in motion an intensive Covid-19 mass vaccination blitz to thwart the looming threat of the recently discovered variant which threatens to plunge the country into a fresh wave of the pandemic ahead of the festive season holidays.
Official surveillance systems have also been heightened to curtail major outbreaks of the new variant, which scientists believe is highly transmissible. World Health Organisation (WHO) country representative Dr Alex Gasasira, however, counselled calm in an interview yesterday. Government has, however, prepared a thorough response plan that will immediately inject renewed impetus into the mass inoculation programme.
Our Harare bureau has gathered that provincial and district response teams were tasked to set up micro-level vaccination plans targeting communities at the grassroots and the disease’s hotspots in every corner of the country.
The teams have also been directed to prepare weekly reports to assess progress.
Chief Coordinator of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva said: “We are now moving forward to ensure we strengthen our response so that we do not get hit by a fourth wave and if we do, it will not be as bad as the third wave. A lot of capacities have been built. Covid-19 confirmatory testing was initially done at the national level but now it is throughout all the 52 districts.”
She said government continues to capacitate universities, small to medium enterprises and pharmaceutical companies to produce personal protective equipment and drugs as a response measure. President Mnangagwa recently commissioned a medical and industrial gas plant financed by Government in Mutare.
WHO country representative, Dr Gasasira said there was need for increased vigilance and compliance with preventive protocols. In addition, government recently rolled out a vaccination programme targeting teenagers above 16 years in order to boost the immunisation programme and ensure that the country reaches herd immunity by year-end. Zimbabwe plans to vaccinate 60 percent of its adult population by year-end.
In a statement on Friday, Vice President Dr Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the Minister of Health, said authorities will intensify screening at all ports of entry.
“Strict monitoring of movements at points of entry and border posts is being intensified to minimise the introduction of this new variant into the country,” said VP Chiwenga, adding that the country had the capacity to contain the situation through robust response mechanism already in place.– @NyembeziMu