Government will only start administering Covid-19 vaccines after completing assessments of all safety concerns and the exercise will be carried out on a voluntary basis.
Acting President General Constantino Chiwenga (Retired) yesterday said some citizens were anxious to get vaccinated, but the Government was keenly following the administration of Covid-19 vaccines by other countries before rolling out its own programme.
Zimbabwe had chosen a cautious approach to ensure the exercise would be carried out safely in the wake of reports that some of the available vaccines could have side effects.
“Despite the observations made that other African, European and Asian countries had started rolling out vaccines, Zimbabwe adopted a measured approach, with experts interrogating all safety concerns.
“As soon as all technical and administrative obligations are met, Zimbabweans can expect to be vaccinated. The vaccination is going to be voluntary and let me underscore that my Ministry is doing everything possible to ensure that our citizens are safe from possible side effects of some Covid-19 vaccines currently on the shelf,” he said.
Zimbabwe is reportedly set to get three million doses of vaccines at a cost of US$25 million from the 270 million jabs availed to the African Union.
The vaccines will cover 15 percent of Zimbabwe’s population.
The vaccines are being sourced by the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Force set up by African Union Chair and South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa.
Responding to questions from The Herald, Acting President Chiwenga, who is also the Minister of Health and Child Care, said Zimbabwe had adequate health facilities to admit Covid-19 patients in the face of rising new infections, which surpassed the 1 000 mark in consecutive days on Wednesday and Thursday this week.
He said Government would provide enough health care services as it intensified the fight against the spread of Covid-19 but warned some rogue elements defying lockdown measures that they would be punished.
Since December 24, the country witnessed a surge in Covid-19 cases forcing the Government to enforce Level Four lockdown measures.
Between Sunday and Thursday this week, the country recorded at least 153 Covid-19 deaths.
Zimbabwe announced a nationwide curfew from 6pm to 6am, banned gatherings, inter-city travel and ordered non-essential businesses to close for a month in an effort to curb a surge in coronavirus infections.
Strict control of people’s movements has already started, with security forces mounting roadblocks and checkpoints countrywide.
The measures are seen as the best way of reining in the spike in infections.
Acting President Chiwenga said the recent escalation in cases of the pandemic in the country had triggered high demand for healthcare, but dismissed reports that there was a serious shortage of hospital beds
“It would be an exaggeration at this stage, to suggest that our health institutions are overwhelmed by cases of Covid-19.
“Let me reassure citizens that Zimbabwe’s public and private health institutions still have adequate capacity to offer health services to all patients.
“In light of widely circulating reports alleging that there is a serious deficit of hospital beds, let me point out that these were embellished social media allegations by some pen-mercenaries.
“However, if the need arises in future, my Ministry may consider options of increasing facilities currently designated for Covid-19 or designate more hospitals to take in patients,” said Acting President Chiwenga.
“In a worst case scenario, that has so far not manifested, all hospitals in the country may be directed to take in citizens affected by Covid-19.”
He urged Zimbabweans not to panic saying they should rely on official information
“Some administrative issues that posed a gridlock in the smooth admission of Covid-19 patients in our hospitals have since been resolved. Among them was Government’s extension of Covid-19 allowances to incentivise our health care workers, frontline workers, civil servants and vulnerable members of our society, and provision of PPEs (personal protective equipment),” he said.
Of the active cases recorded so far, only two to three percent of them warranted hospitalisation with specialised treatment.
At least 12 to 13 percent required discharge within two to three days of admission, while the bulk of 85 percent only required self-isolation.
As of Thursday, Zimbabwe had recorded 25 368 cases, 14 714 recoveries and 1 112 active cases, while a total of 47 people lost their lives on Thursday alone bringing the cumulative Covid-19 deaths to 636.
Commenting on the spike in Covid-19 cases, Acting President Chiwenga said the Government introduced a raft of measures with the Inter-Ministerial National Covid-19 Taskforce continuing to review the situation on a daily basis.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care and strategic partners had stepped up awareness programs across all media, imposed a 30-day national lockdown, revitalised testing, contact tracing and treatment of patients while mobilising and providing PPEs to frontline workers.
He warned the public against complacency saying statistics were indicating an increase in new cases.
“Let me warn my fellow countrymen that current statistics is indicating a marginal increase in new cases.
“The total confirmed cases continue to mount. The prevailing situation is posing a grave threat to public health and our citizens should not slacken. We should continue to observe guidelines of wearing masks, observing social distancing and sanitization,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that some of our people continue to defy lockdown measures, as we might have noticed in Mbare, where some errand youths decided, in their own wisdom or lack of it, to organize a musical showcase. If all our people maintained a positive attitude towards measures to combat the Coronavirus, there was not going to be any need for imposition of a national lockdown.”
Acting President Chiwenga said that he is aware that lockdown measures were hurting livelihoods, freedoms, rights and liberties of individuals but it was important to preserve lives first.
The National Covid-19 Taskforce would continue information sharing through robust awareness campaigns fashioned in all languages and widely disseminated through all media platforms.
Government was also mobilising traditional and church leaders, among other opinion leaders, to conscientise citizens on the effects of the deadly pandemic.
Testing, he said was an important strategy to contain or slow the progression of the pandemic in society.
“Government is seized with the requirement to further enhance our testing capacity. Currently, we have a capacity of testing at least 6 000 people per day.”
Traditional medicines such as Mufandichimuka, Moringa, Zumbani and other herbs could also be used to treat Covid-19 or substitute drugs.
“You might be aware that some modern medicines are actually derived from traditional herbs. It is possible that some traditional medicines can be used to treat Covid-19 and there is need for scientific research to ascertain their efficacy.”
The Ministry of Health and Child Care had operationalized the Traditional Medicines Department, which was pre-occupied with research in this area.