Saturday, 6 February 2021

EASE LOCKDOWN : HEALTH EXPERTS

HEALTH experts have recommended that the Government must consider easing tight lockdown restrictions and open up the economy as indications on the ground were that the country has reaped the benefits of the Level Four lockdown that was introduced at the beginning of the year to contain the spread of Covid-19.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, at the first week of January when the country introduced the strict lockdown, the country recorded 6 008 new Covid-19 cases, which by the second week increased to 6 382, but there has been a steady decline in new infections, with 4 126 recorded in the third week, 2 266 in the last week of January while last week (as at Friday) the country had 1 058 new infections.

In terms of deaths in the first week, 106 deaths were recorded, which went up to 200 in the second week, further increasing to 291 in the third week. However, the fatalities began to decline to 219 in the last week of January, with the country recording 110 deaths last week. The Level Four lockdown is set to end on 15 February.

Although the country is still on high alert, doctors said Government can now loosen the lockdown and open up more sectors of the economy to ensure a balance between people’s lives and their livelihoods. Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZIMA) president Dr Francis Chirowa said although there was need for an extension of the lockdown so as to arrest the pandemic, there was need to open up on some sectors of the economy.

“If it was just the pandemic alone, we would want to have an indefinite lockdown. But because the lockdown has its own effects on the economy, there is need for Government to loosen up but not completely take it away. All other measures such as social distancing, sanitisation and masking up should remain in place. Congregating should not be allowed at all while bars, saloons and churches should remain closed.

Also, the limited number of 30 people for funerals is okay. The challenge we have is that people that do not have comorbidities (chronic conditions) are young and very active and they may have the disease (Covid-19) but they may be asymptomatic and spreading it,” he said.

Zimbabwe World Health Organisation country representative Dr Alex Gasasira said the downward trend in the country’s epidemic was a testimony that the measures put in place by Government have yielded positive results and citizens have adhered to the regulations and protocols.

Dr Gasasira said for Government to lift the lockdown there was need for people to comply with Covid-19 protocols of maintaining social distance, masking up, limiting movements, limiting gatherings and socialisation.

“What we would recommend for people is to comply with Government regulations and limit movement, gathering and socialisation. Compliance to these measures in the absence of lockdown would also mean Government would not need to enforce the stringent measures.

The idea of lockdown is to ensure minimum movement and gathering.

“Movement and gatherings give the virus an opportunity to spread. Let us not give the virus a chance by complying with the measures. The downward trend of the epidemic gives us the belief that the preventative measures have been adhered to.

“In other countries where there is compliance transmission has been kept low and they have relaxed their conditions. Lockdown is usually the last option,” he said.

Mpilo hospital acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said lockdown measures would always attract debate as there was need to balance health measures and issues to do with the nation’s economy.

“Lockdowns and coronavirus are now a contentious subject because on one hand lockdowns cause a lot of economic disruptions. On the other hand, from a health perspective, a full lockdown is necessary as it helps us contain this pandemic and avoid mass infections that might lead to the crippling of the health sector subsequently leading to mass deaths,” said Prof Ngwenya.

He said the danger with downgrading the lockdown was that most countries would eventually revert back to full scale lockdown once infections rise.

“As a country it is difficult for me to comment whether we are ready or not to relax the lockdown but from where I am, the community I work from, I believe if we downgrade it might be catastrophic because there is a lot of infections in the community and a lot of people that are not being tested.

“The countries that are downgrading will actually soon go back to full scale lockdowns, it’s a vicious cycle, you relax, infections surge and you go back to full scale lockdown, but that is one thing which we have to accept because there is also the need for the economy to function,” said Prof Ngwenya.

Chief Coordinator for the National Response to the Covid-19 in the President’s Office Dr Agnes Mahomva said the downward curve on the country’s epidemic trend was an indication that the country’s response was on the right path.

Dr Mahomva said this however, does not rule out the possibility of a third wave of the pandemic.

“As of Thursday February 4, the country’s cumulative cases were 34 171 with recoveries at 27 759 which is about 81 percent and deaths were 1288. Bulawayo and Harare metropolitan Provinces continue to be the country’s main hotspots followed by Manicaland and Mashonaland East,” she said.

Dr Mahomva said the country cannot however, rule out the possibility of the third wave if citizens relax. She said medical practitioners must be guided by science on treatment guidelines and protocols. Sunday News

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