Zimbabwe has witnessed an explosion of Covid-19 cases, which more than doubled in less than two days last week.
The authorities say the majority of the cases were from Zimbabweans that recently returned from countries such as South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.
Cases jumped from 63 to 132 in just 32 hours last Wednesday, with just one local transmission recorded.
The number of infected people had gone up to 160 by Friday and again it was imported cases that pushed Zimbabwe’s numbers up.
Although the exponential growth in the number of cases might have come as a surprise to some, it was not entirely unexpected given the huge number of Zimbabweans returning from South Africa, itself a Covid-19 hotspot on the continent, and the chaotic manner returnees are being handled by the authorities. The government says 4 000 Zimbabweans have returned home in the past few weeks, with the majority coming from South Africa.
More are expected to arrive in the coming days from countries such as Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia.
As much as the country was not ready to tackle an outbreak of coronavirus due to a combination of poor planning and a collapsing health delivery system, the authorities were not prepared to handle the influx of returning residents.
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The isolation centres set up across the country to handle the returnees fall far short of World Health Organisation regulations as some of them are overcrowded.
Returnees are escaping from the centres in numbers because of poor conditions and delays by government to test for Covid-19, resulting in many of them staying longer than is necessary.
As if that was not enough, some returning residents who do not have proper documentation are taking advantage of the country’s porous borders to return home and this poses a huge threat to rural communities as there are no mechanisms to detect imported cases.
The government only woke up to the problem last week with Cabinet ordering the repairing of roads along the borders so that security forces can increase patrols.
This, however, might prove too little too late as these movements started two months ago when countries shut down their borders to control the spread of coronavirus.
It is imperative for authorities to come up with clear strategies to deal with threats of imported cases by handling returning residents in a way that doesn’t fuel the spread of the pandemic.
Zimbabwe is far from being ready to handle a full-blown coronavirus outbreak because of the widely reported shortage of test kits and personal protective equipment at hospitals as well as means to treat the sick.
Prevention remains the only viable option to stop the pandemic from getting out of hand.