IN March last year, Zimbabwe recorded its first Covid-19 case in the resort city of Victoria Falls.
Fear and panic immediately gripped the nation after news of patient zero, a 38-year-old man, who had recently returned from the United Kingdom and tested positive for the coronavirus, began filtering across the country.
However, 13 months later, the country’s prime tourist destination became the first city in the region to attain Covid-19 herd immunity.
This was after the Government launched a mass vaccination programme in the city, targeting to inoculate the city’s entire adult population, estimated at 25 000 people. The vaccination programme was part of efforts by the Government to resuscitate the tourism sector, which had taken a massive battering from the pandemic.
The Government deliberately supplied the city with 60 000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine as part of a plan to ensure the safe reopening of the resort destination.
A month later, over 77 percent of the local population had received their Covid-19 vaccine shots.
As of last week, 20 881 Victoria Falls residents had received their first vaccine dose, while 17 173 had received their second.
Authorities now say over 80 percent of the city’s adult population has received either their first or second jab.
Experts contend that herd immunity against Covid-19 is achieved after between 60-70 percent of the population is vaccinated.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 350 000 people visited the Zimbabwean side of the waterfall to see one of the world’s natural wonders.
High rollers including Chinese billionaire and co-founder of the Alibaba Group Jack Ma, Hollywood actors Will Smith and Steve Harvey were some of the guests to have publicly visited Victoria Falls prior to the onset of the pandemic.
For tourists as far afield as the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and nearby South Africa, watching the sunset from the Victoria Falls bridge was a favourite pastime.
Victoria Falls was thriving and among the fastest-growing tourist spots in Africa.
But since then, there had been hardly any visitors.
However, the recent attainment of herd immunity is revitalising Victoria Falls. Normalcy appears to be on the horizon, and the world is beginning to take notice.
Hotel occupancy is marginally on the up, while several high profile personalities have started visiting.
American socialite Paris Hilton was recently in the resort city on a three-day visit accompanied by her fiancé Carter Reum, an author, entrepreneur and venture capitalist.
Matabeleland North Minister of Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Richard Moyo, is confident that normalcy is on the horizon.
“The vaccination programme went on very well,” he told The Sunday Mail last week.
“We have vaccinated over half of the people in Victoria Falls and that is good progress.”
However, with Zimbabwe having plunged into the claws of a third wave of the pandemic, the gains recorded over the last few weeks appear to be under imminent threat.
Acting Matabeleland North Provincial Medical Director (PMD), Dr Munekayi Padingani, told The Sunday Mail that the rapidly increasing infection rates in other parts of the province were a cause for concern.
He said people who were not inoculated under the mass vaccination programme could taint Victoria Falls’ newly-attained spotless image.
“We have vaccinated about 80 percent of the population in Victoria Falls and we have reached herd immunity,” he said.
“What we are witnessing now is that there is an increase in Covid-19 cases among unvaccinated people in areas such as Hwange where there was no target to reach herd immunity.”
However, according to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Matabeleland North is recording the least number of positive cases compared to other provinces countrywide.
Hope springs eternal
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said new infections in Victoria Falls were low.
“When we were analysing the positivity rate, the areas that are bordering Victoria Falls such as Binga and Hwange had higher rates of infection compared to Victoria Falls which is testament to the success of the vaccination programme,” he said.
“So our biggest message to our tourists who want to visit Victoria Falls is that the rate of infection is very low because of the vaccination drive introduced by the Government in Victoria Falls.”
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority (ZimParks) spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said the vaccination programme will help the tourism industry to return to its feet.
Zimparks runs the most extensive tourism establishment in the country.
“We should put more resources towards vaccinating our people,” said Mr Farawo.
“This will ensure that people start travelling freely and business can get back to normal.
“What we have been doing is that we have been encouraging travellers and holiday makers to take advantage of the vaccination programme so that we can open up.”
Last week, Zimbabwe took delivery of two million Covid-19 vaccines – the largest consignment yet – with the country now set to begin a massive immunisation blitz over the next few weeks.
Another 3,5 million doses of the vaccine are expected from China later this month.
Public health experts say that attaining national herd immunity will expedite the country’s return to normalcy.
Government plans to vaccinate over 60 percent of the population by year-end.
Older PostProf Mpepereki dies