Wednesday, 18 March 2020

CORONAVIRUS : PARLY SUSPENDED


Parliament yesterday adjourned for seven weeks and suspended all international travel and public hearings as part of national precautions against coronavirus which causes Covid-19 while cities and municipalities speeded up plans to prepare suitable isolation facilities.

Courts solemnising civil marriages are limiting attendance to just the couple and two witnesses. Churches have agreed to limit services and numbers attending.

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Zimbabwe, with three Chinese nationals isolated at Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital on Monday testing negative for Covid-19 although test results are not yet available for a Bulawayo woman in self-quarantine with her family after her South African doctor tested positive.

Parliament’s decision followed the President’s announcement on Tuesday, declaring the pandemic a state of national disaster, to enable the Government to mobilise resources and curb the spread of the disease. 

Government ordered that no gathering should exceed 100 people and asked people not to visit relatives in prison.

The announcement of the adjournment, and the ban on travel and hearings, was made by Speaker of the National Assembly Advocate Jacob Mudenda and Council of Chiefs President Chief Fortune Charumbira who was standing in for Senate President Cde Mabel Chinomona.

Announcing the adjournment to May 5, Adv Mudenda said: “Honourable members should note that the resumption date is subject to change depending on the prevailing conditions at that particular time.”

Workshops and field visits already approved might go ahead where the numbers are less than 100. Other meetings will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Both the House of Assembly and Senate sit in crowded chambers converted or built in colonial days for far smaller legislatures and a single confirmed infection could well see the quarantining of most ministers, senators and MPs with a resulting higher than average infection rate.

Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo hailed Parliament for suspending business, saying continued sitting could be “disastrous”.

Minister Moyo said this while giving a ministerial statement on coronavirus to Parliament.

“I was happy that Parliament has adjourned. It is a disastrous area where we can easily have an infection,” said Minister Moyo.

He said there was huge demand for protective clothing and the Government would soon engage local industry so that they could be supported to produce some of the products.

Minister Moyo said the United Kingdom had provided additional support of £1,7 million while Treasury continued to revise its budget to fight the pandemic. 

Cities and municipalities are busy upgrading public communications and setting up or upgrading isolation facilities. Mutare City Council is rolling out a series of awareness campaigns. The Forbes Border Post of the city’s Mozambique border screens all arriving visitors and so far, 50 travellers coming into Mutare who have visited high risk countries have been followed up with none showing Covid-19 symptoms.

Mutare city mayor councillor Blessing Tandi said his city is appealing for US$400 000 to rehabilitate Mutare Infectious Diseases Hospital which has been identified as the isolation facility for Covid-19 patients and expects the Government will help. The city was seeking to recruit 12 nurses and environmental health officers to be stationed at the hospital.

In Masvingo, the campaign to create high levels of preparedness against coronavirus has gone a gear up with the launch of outreach programmes targeting health officials from all corners of Masvingo Province. Masvingo City Council has already offered Rujeko Clinic to be used as the provincial isolation centre while training of health personnel from Masvingo Provincial Hospital is underway.

Masvingo’s provincial medical director, Dr Amadeus Shamu, confirmed that they were putting in place systems to ensure high levels of preparedness against the virus and acting Town Clerk Engineer Edward Mukaratirwa said upgrading of Rujeko Clinic to meet the required standard for an isolation centre is already underway. “We will continue to closely work with the Ministry of Health and Child Care to make sure we improve our levels of preparedness,” he said.

In the Midlands Province Gweru City Council heath director Mr Samson Sekenhamo said the local authority, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, has trained over 150 health workers.

Kwekwe City Mayor, Councillor Angeline Kasipo said the local authority was converting one of its defunct beer halls, Garandichauya Bar, to an infectious diseases unit using devolution funds.

“The city currently does not have such a facility to effectively isolate and appropriately manage infectious diseases so we are embarking on this project as a matter of urgency,” she said

Beitbridge’s responsive and preparedness plan is also in full swing with the local authority making use of posters and hailers to reach out to people in the town. 

The Government has since set up a temporary quarantine centre at the Reception and Support Centre to handle all suspected cases pending transportation to the Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Centre in Bulawayo. Council is beefing up staff in its Environmental Health Department to enforce laws and measures that reduce the spread of diseases at market places, shopping complexes, and social gatherings.

In Kadoma, the city council has moved to establish a Covid-19 isolation unit within Kadoma General Hospital and set up model doctor’s consultation rooms for Covid-19 with Hertzman surgery as the city moves to complement national preparedness against coronavirus.

Addressing Kadoma stakeholders and residents at an emergency Covid-19 preparedness meeting, mayor Cllr Action Nyamukondiwa said the city council had sensitised all private medical practitioners, school health masters, pastors and business owners against coronavirus. The city had bought 10 thermo scanners for monitoring travellers and was monitoring 52 residents who had been to affected areas.

The number of marriages solemnised at the Harare Magistrates’ Court will be reduced from 40 to 10 per day with immediate effect, with only the couple and two witnesses allowed inside the wedding venue.

Further, all courthouses will also have hand sanitisers at entrances while all public surfaces and other facilities will be disinfected to improve hygiene levels.

Acting Chief Magistrate Mr Munamato Mutevedzi told The Herald yesterday that following President Mnangagwa’s directive to limit gatherings to 100 people, they have to take appropriate measures to prevent Covid-19 infections. 

“The secretary of the Judicial Service Commission has directed us to improve hygiene standards at all our court-houses. The hand sanitisers that we have put at the entrance into Harare Magistrates’ Court and all other stations are only the beginning of various initiatives that will be employed,” said Mr Mutevedzi.

“Harare Magistrates’ Court is our biggest worry as hundreds, if not thousands of people, visit the court houses on a daily basis.”

Mr Mutevedzi said with the guidance of the JSC secretary Mr Walter Chikwanha, and in consultation with other stakeholders, they are exploring the feasibility of other courses of action to decongest court houses.

In Victoria Falls, health workers are still monitoring and tracing everyone who might have had contact with a UK-based tourist who tested positive to Covid-19 upon returning to his country after stopping off in South Africa for several days. In that tourist’s case, no one has presented themselves with signs and symptoms of Covid-19 warranting laboratory tests.

In relation to the three cases at Wilkins, Harare City Health director Dr Prosper Chonzi said: “We admitted the three overnight and we have just received the results that came out negative. We hope it stays that way.”

He said the hospital had been receiving an overwhelming number of people presenting for testing, while they have also been picking up some suspects for testing. “There is need to tighten the screening method so that it does not remain generalised,” he said. 

Sceptical social media users have insinuated that Zimbabwe has no capacity to test or screen for coronavirus. But said Dr Chonzi: “The testing method is up to standard and to date we have had cases testing negative. The only challenge is that our case definition is loose such that anyone who presents with fever and has a history of travelling from affected countries is tested.

“If we really tighten up case definitions then maybe we can pick up the positives. But the other thing is that we have no direct flights coming from the mostly hard hit countries.”

Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) has urged the Government to provide portable water tanks, soap or hand sanitisers at terminuses and public toilets to help combat Covid-19.

PAZ president Mr Tafadzwa Goliati said: “As PAZ, we remain concerned with the well-being of the commuting public in the context of this global pandemic.”

Four SADC countries; South Africa, DR Congo, Namibia and Eswatini, have registered positive cases of Covid-19. In South Africa, the cases have hit 116 as at yesterday. Herald

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