Wednesday 3 June 2020


By Munyaradzi Madziwa

I am an inmate at Bulawayo Polytechnic Quarantine Centre.  I arrived back in Zimbabwe through Victoria Falls on May 14, 2020 and I have gone through a hair-raising experience in two of Zimbabwe’s quarantine centres.

I have decided to share this experience in a bid to appeal to authorities to correct the situation in these centres which is scary and obviously a driver of the exponential growth in Zim’s Covid cases which we have started to notice.

It is not by coincidence that the latest figures that have pushed Zimbabwe Covid cases six times up are coming from quarantine centres. There are lax conditions and the probability is that many inmates enter the centres without infection and then get it there.

My scary story started at the border at Vic Falls where a Ministry of Health officer demanded US$10 or the ZW$ equivalent to disinfect my car. He threatened that I either part with that amount or get the car impounded until after 21 days. I leave that story for another day.

I was then admitted at a quarantine center at Mosia Tunya Secondary School. It got scarier! I was ushered into a classroom and told to find any space that was free. There were people sleeping on top of desks, some on the floor and each had a single blanket.

I queried to the ushers the rationale of putting me in the same room with 11 people whose places of origin or Covid -19 statuses I didn’t know. I got no response.

In the end I retired to my car where I spent the next four days sleeping.

There was no Ministry of Health official to attend to us until mid-day the following day and when they came they were heavily clad in Personal Protective Equipment. They sanitized every step of their way as they came in to test new arrivals.

There was a crowd behind me as I approached the health desk to get my initial test. Everyone in the crowd was clamouring to get tested or to get their results. Some had been in quarantine for 26 days. The majority did not have face masks and there were no sanitisers in sight.

I am now 16 days in the quarantine and yet this became my last contact with health workers.

A few days later on May 18, I was transferred from Mosia Tunya to Bulawayo and inmates were ferried there in crowded buses for the 6 hour journey. Facilities in Bulawayo were no better as we were crammed in dusty classrooms at Bulawayo Polytechnic. The conditions there are an incentive for any self-respecting individual to escape.  Sadza is served with chunks every day.

Although quarantine days are stipulated at 21, no one ever knows exactly when they will come out because some have been in for more than 26 days.

In Bulawayo we filled countless forms from all security arms of the State but none from the Ministry of Health. The forms were from Prisons, Intelligence and the Police. No health official has visited us since my arrival here on May 18. There was an incident where a young man developed shingle blisters on one side of his face. Health officials were called to attend but they never came. Inmates ended up getting whatever medication they could lay their hands on to help the man.

The following are the serious shortcomings that urgently need redress in the quarantine centres;

1.      Quarantine centres are overcrowded. There is no social distancing. Inmates queue for meals and they have meals in crowded dining halls.

2.      Old and fresh inmates who are not yet tested are crammed in the same rooms. Escapees are recaptured and taken back into the centre without any testing or screening. How then do we ascertain the source of infection if any of us eventually tests positive?

3.      Tests results take weeks to come and in the meantime new inmates and captured escapees are added to the mix. How then do you ascertain that newly infected individuals are not released into community on invalid results?

4. Social Welfare officers, Police officers spend the day interacting with inmates with little or no PPE. These individuals at the end of the day retreat to their homes as new shifts come in, albeit with no testing or even screening.

How then do we ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t leave the camp into the community each day? Ever wondered why sporadic cases are now rising up in the communities?

A case in point is that Botswana has a total of 35 confirmed Covid-19 cases. We on the other hand are now confirming daily new cases from mixed quarantine camps and attributing these to their place of origin. What is the mathematical probability therefore of Botswana exporting 10 cases to Zimbabwe unless we are denying the authenticity of their reported cases?

It also baffles the mind that the COVID-19 issue is a health issue but the departments that we see at the quarantine centres on a daily basis have nothing to do with medical issues but security.

Those high Government officials who are not making the right decisions must realise that Covid-19 does not discriminate between the rich and the poor or the powerful and the down to earth. Their poor handling of these centres will catch up with them and haunt even them or their children.

In conclusion I recommend that there be a systemic process of testing and monitoring of returning citizens and their gradual reintegration into communities.

The Ministry of Health must enforce the same standard requirements i.e.; wearing protective masks, sanitising and social distancing in the isolation centers just as they apply outside.

There is also a critical need to monitor returnees daily for clinical signs and symptoms that may point to Covid-19 infection. My rudimentary understanding of the quarantine rationale stems from the virus’s incubation period which may delay early detection. There is therefore in my view a need to take daily temperatures for all quarantined and to limit interaction and thereby reduce cross infection.

Without applying these conditions quarantine becomes useless. It makes little sense for one to get into a quarantine center free of the virus and then come out infected.

Yet this is what is exactly happening in our quarantine centres which are devoid of the necessary preventive conditions. Masvingo Mirror


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