By Dr Johannes Marisa
On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, later named Omicron, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).
This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron had several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how it easily spreads or the severity of illness it causes.
Today, many Southern African countries have entered the fourth wave with South Africa and Zimbabwe being on top in terms of new cases.
Our country broke its incidence record on Friday when 6 181 new cases were recorded in one day. The rate of transmission seems higher than before.
In July, it took about three weeks for our country to record at least 1 000 cases in one day while during this fourth wave, it only took four days to click the first thousand.
Everyone has a big responsibility if we are to contain the repugnant virus. Both treacly and egregious actions have been taken in the name of reducing Covid-19 transmission. It is sad that some of the restrictions are inhumane, deplorable and detrimental to global unity.
Southern Africa had all its flights banned from entering Europe just within the first few hours of announcing that a new strain of Covid-19 was found.
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What boggles our minds is that the same countries that banned Southern African countries have their people freely moving into Southern Africa.
Everyone knows Europe is worse than Africa in terms of both morbidity and mortality related to Covid-19.
Imagine if Africa was the worst hit continent! Was there going to be anyone from Africa who would enter Europe, Asia or the US? Such form of imperialism should never be allowed to materialise in this era.
The world may be grappling with fear and anxiety about the Omicron, alas, the local populace seems complacent about Covid-19.
There are many ills that need to be corrected if we are to stop community transmission. It seems only a few people are paying attention to public health matters that have been stipulated by our own government. It is scientific knowledge that Covid-19 is transmitted through droplets that come when one coughs, sneezes or touches mucous membranes.
Large gatherings are therefore super-spreaders and it is therefore prudent to shun such gatherings. Social distancing should be observed with at least a distance of one metre from the other person. People should be reminded that Covid-19 needs extra hygiene, therefore, hand-washing is key if people are serious about containing the virus.
Information is still coming out about Omicron including that it is less virulent than the delta variant. Research is still going on about that but what is alarming in Zimbabwe is that there is an average of 40 Covid-19-related admissions on a daily basis.
We note with great concern that daily, there is need for Intensive Care. Sooner than later, all beds will be fully occupied.
Responsibilities in Covid-19 control go to many stakeholders and reduction of morbidity and mortality depends on the diligence or spiritedness of the involved players.
Failure to show seriousness may be calamitous hence the need to collaborate maximally. The following stakeholders can play important roles:
Government: Government, through the Health and Child Care ministry, can undertake enhanced surveillance and sequencing of cases. Data should be made available and suspicious cases or clusters should be robustly reported. Testing should be expedited with more centres being established in high density suburbs. Many patients who are seen in private are not tested due to numerous reasons.
Some claim they do not have money for a private PCR test. With Omicron being the talk of the week, it is wise to study its transmission, characteristics, diagnostics, therapeutics so that appropriate drugs and sundries are ordered in time. So far, there are reports that Omicron cases are not as serious as Delta patients. People should not give themselves unnecessary self-relief because the long-term effects are not yet known. The country should continue to implement public health measures in a bid to reduce Covid-19 circulation but based on risk-analysis and science-based approaches. Government should make sure it increases both public health and medical capacities to manage an increase in cases.
The populace: The high degree of complacency that is shown by people should be condemned. People should appreciate all the public health measures that were put in place. We should not wait for law enforcement agents to enforce the measures which are supposed to benefit us as individuals.
Health discipline is what is required. Both quarantine and isolation centres should make sure they have at least pulse oximeters, blood pressure machines and thermometers in order to have routine readings of patients.
My friend had her daughter in isolation at a polytechnic college in Bulawayo. The daughter went on to worsen some few days ago. What was appalling was that the college did not even have a pulse oximeter to record oxygen saturation of the students in isolation. Covid-19 needs good management lest it can decimate as many people as it can.
Let us do the right things. Play your part in Covid-19 control. Together we will conquer!