The GOVERNMENT has set in motion an intensive Covid-19 mass vaccination blitz to thwart the looming threat of the recently discovered omicron variant which threatens to plunge the country into a fresh wave of the coronavirus pandemic ahead of the festive season holidays.
Official surveillance systems have been heightened to curtail major outbreaks of the new variant, which scientists believe is highly transmissible.
Genomic sequencing, a scientific process used to determine the genetic makeup of a specific organism, of newly detected Covid-19 cases, has also been activated in order to ascertain the presence of the omicron variant in Zimbabwe. This latest mutation of the coronavirus has already been detected in Botswana and South Africa, triggering mass restrictions on international travellers coming from southern Africa by much of the Western world.
The United Kingdom, much of the European Union, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, India and other countries around the world on Friday and yesterday announced travel bans or restrictive measures against travellers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola and Botswana following the detection of the omicron variant by South African scientists.
The United States and Canada followed suit, announcing a ban on travellers from these southern African countries beginning tomorrow.
Yesterday, the International Cricket Council called off the Women’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier tournament which was taking place in Harare owing to the introduction of the travel restrictions.
World Health Organisation country representative, Dr Alex Gasasira counselled calm in an interview yesterday.
The Government has, however, prepared a thorough response plan that will immediately inject renewed impetus into the mass inoculation programme and possibly stymie widespread outbreaks of the omicron Covid-19 strain.
The Sunday Mail has gathered that provincial and district response teams were tasked to set up micro-level vaccination plans targeting communities at the grassroots and the disease’s hotspots in every corner of the country.
The teams have also been directed to prepare weekly reports to assess progress.
Chief co-ordinator of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, said: “We are now moving forward to ensure we strengthen our response so that we do not get hit by a fourth wave and if we do it will not be as bad as the third wave.
“A lot of capacities have been built.
“Covid-19 confirmatory testing was initially done at the national level but now it is available throughout all the 52 districts.
“We are always doing genomic sequencing for variants identification, our teams in the labs are working on that.
“We have also strengthened capacity for disease surveillance that is at the core of the response strategy.
“Capacity for disease surveillance has been strengthened whether it is detecting or managing cases; the rapid response teams are in place and every single day we have reports at the Ministry of Health and Child Care.”
She said the Government continues to capacitate universities, small to medium enterprises and pharmaceutical companies to produce personal protective equipment and drugs as a response measure.
President Mnangagwa recently commissioned a medical and industrial gas plant financed by the Government in Mutare.
“The other capacities that we are building are the vaccination programme,” said Dr Mahomva.
“We had started ramping up vaccination, districts and provinces have all been working on what we call vaccination micro plans so that they increase outreach sites intra-action reviews that we are currently holding to identify the gaps and challenges being faced so that they can be addressed.”
Call for vigilance
WHO country representative, Dr Gasasira, said there was a need for increased vigilance and compliance with preventive protocols.
“If the majority of people comply with the recommendations that Ministry of Health and Child Care is making in terms of Covid-19 preventive measures and if all who are still unvaccinated take the opportunity to get vaccinated, this will reduce the risk of a fourth wave, reduce the risk of many people getting severely ill and dying as a result of Covid-19,” he said.
“So we need to remind everyone that Covid-19 is still around despite the current low numbers being reported in the country.
“It is especially important that as we approach the festive season, and with the emergence of much more transmissible variants of the virus that
causes Covid-19, it is really very important that we all enhance our vigilance and compliance with preventive measures.”
The Government recently rolled out a vaccination programme targeting teenagers above 16 years of age in order to boost the immunisation programme and ensure that the country reaches herd immunity by year-end.
In a statement on Friday, Vice President Dr Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the Minister of Health and Child Care, said authorities will intensify screening at all ports of entry.
“Strict monitoring of movements at points of entry and border posts is being intensified to minimise the introduction of this new variant into the country,” said VP Chiwenga.
Close to 900 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded this month.
Zimbabwe plans to vaccinate 60 percent of its adult population by year-end.
As of Friday, 3 756 498 had received the first dose while 2 786 976 had been administered the second dose.