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Omicron dampens festive season

BY PHYLLIS MBANJE

THIS year’s festive season has been punctuated with rising concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant which is expected to increase as people throw caution to the wind as they make merry and disregard WHO preventive measures.

Covid-19 statistics for December have been rising alarmingly with Health ministry daily data indicating that the country now has a daily average of over 2 000 new cases.

On December 23, the death toll climbed to 27.

This is in sharp contrast with November figures which had a daily average of around 40 new infections and zero deaths.

Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga urged people to strictly observe the WHO laid down regulations which include social distancing, correctly wearing face masks and washing hands regularly among others.

“Avoid public gatherings such as parties, unsanctioned religious gatherings and any other convergences”, he said.

While the government has put in place measures for those in the diaspora wishing to come home for the festive season, many have been flouting those regulations and sneaking the border illegally into the country via South Africa.

South Africa is currently battling the worst of the Omicron variant and Zimbabweans living there are likely to transport the variant when they come into the country illegally.

One of the measures put in place by the government is to quarantine visitors upon arrival.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently announced compulsory 14-day quarantine for visitors and returning citizens to prevent Covid spread.

But weeks after these measures were put in place, Zimbabweans living in South Africa and other countries have been evading the process and making their way home to their families without being isolated.

Recently 12 Covid-19 positive inmates escaped from a Beitbridge quarantine centre.

They had been deported from South Africa. Police  said they have launched a manhunt for the 12 “Covid-super-spreaders”.

Media reports from Chipinge say that villagers there are very concerned about how their relatives are ignoring quarantine procedures and exposing them to the highly contagious disease.

“Zimbabwe needs to learn from what is happening elsewhere in countries such as those in Europe where the Omicron variant is causing havoc and serious disruptions to social life because of the high numbers of new infections, hospitalisation and deaths. We should remain vigilant and not lower our guard ,” said Itai Rusike, a  health expert and director of the Community Working Group on Health ( CWGH).

Rusike said the country’s already broken public health delivery services could soon be completely overwhelmed by this highly virulent Omicron variant.

“Especially given that our public health delivery services do not have adequate human resources for health, ICU facilities, oxygen concentrators and enough hospital beds.”

Rusike urged the public to exercise caution and not get too excited during the festive season and forget to follow WHO recommended guidelines and protocols.

“Let us encourage each other to get vaccinated and reduce unnecessary travel and gatherings because family and public gatherings are super-spreaders,” he said.

But a quick survey shows that these warnings have fallen on deaf ears as hundreds of people thronged Mbare bus terminus looking for transport to travel to their rural homes.

For the past few days after companies shut down for the holidays, Mbare  has been a hive of activity with transporters recording brisk business.

Rusike urged vulnerable groups including frontline health workers, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions to get booster jabs in order to increase their protection from Covid.

“The same also applies to the 16 to 17 year age groups, this is the time for them to come in their numbers and get vaccinated so that the country can accelerate towards achieving the required herd immunity,” he said.

Worldwide most countries have instituted tighter measures to curb the omicron threat.

European leaders are reinstating coronavirus restrictions as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the continent.

Germany and Portugal are among nations announcing post-Christmas curbs and greater social distancing measures.

The surge in cases across Europe will push health systems “towards the brink” of collapse, a World Health Organisation’s top official Hans Kluge, has warned.

US President Joe Biden appealed to all Americans to get vaccinated to fight the Omicron. Omicron now accounts for 73% of all new cases in the US, up from less than 1 percent at the beginning of the month.

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