By Alfonce Mbizwo, Moses Matenga/Precious Chida
ZIMBABWE yesterday reported a third case of the deadly coronavirus, while three civil servants were put on self-quarantine for three weeks after they came into contact with the late journalist Zororo Makamba, who died on Monday from the deadly COVID-19.
The Health ministry said it had conducted 15 tests, mostly on people that had been in contact with Makamba and one had tested positive. It did not give further details. It would be Zimbabwe’s first case of community transmission.
The civil servants were identified as two aides — a driver and personal assistant — to the Cabinet deputy chief secretary and presidential spokesman, George Charamba, as well as Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s personal assistant.
Zororo, a son of businessman James Makamba, was
buried yesterday as per government regulations which require COVID-19 victims to be interred within 24 hours.
The late broadcaster returned from New York on March 9 and tested positive for coronavirus on March 20.
Before he was hospitalised at Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare, Zororo was in contact with dozens of people, visited at least two bars, government offices, a bank and a gym.
His death also sparked a protest by tax agency Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) staff at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, who accuse management of failing to conduct tests of staff who were exposed to him, possibly on arrival.
“It has come to the Zimbabwe Revenue and Allied Workers Trade Union attention that an occupational hazard which is posing grave danger to Zimra workers has arisen at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport,” the Zimra workers said.
“The occupational hazard involves possible exposure to COVID-19 virus of workers who were at the referred airport when one client, who is now diseased, passed through and was served by Zimra workers.”
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa did not disclose the staff in question and the government officials they were in contact with, but Charamba told an online publication that his aides had come into contact with Makamba when he visited his office twice, but on both occasions, he had been away.
He said the two aides had tested negative, but government was taking safety precautions.
“When we learnt of Zororo’s condition, we called in the health people on Sunday and my two staff members were tested and ordered to self-isolate at home. The tests were negative, but we are not taking any chances and so they will be re-tested before they return to work at the end of the 21-day period,” Charamba was quoted as saying.
Makamba had also come into contact with Ncube’s personal assistant, he added.
The Cabinet meeting was for the first time held under a tent at the State House, with the Finance minister, who recently travelled to Norway, Europe, now the coronavirus epicentre, in attendance.
Mutsvangwa and the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Misheck Sibanda said only Ncube, who had travelled to risky countries, was in the Cabinet meeting. It was also not clear whether Ncube had self-quarantined on his return to the country.
Mutsvangwa said the decision to hold the meeting in a tent was to allow ventilation, with chairs sparsely placed for good social distancing.
“We were with him in Cabinet. He was there with us,” she said of Ncube.
But Charamba told online publication ZimLive that while Ncube had considered self-isolating, he had been advised to attend Cabinet by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In neighbouring South Africa yesterday, cases shot up to 554 from 402 a day earlier as it prepares to enter a 21-day lockdown from midnight tomorrow.
It now has the highest number of coronavirus infections in sub-Saharan Africa.
Globally, COVID-19 infections were nearing 410 000 last night, with 18 246 deaths.
Mnangagwa on Monday closed borders to human traffic and banned foreigners, with all entrants now required to undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine period.
However, labour and opposition figures called for a total lockdown.
“There is need for the government to ensure that there is minimal movement, non-essential public spaces closed and all borders sealed for visitors. There is need for a minimum of 14-day lockdown, which needs to be implemented sooner rather than later,” the Zimbabwe Medical Association said in a statement.
The Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights decried the state of play in dealing with potential cases.
“ZADHR is deeply concerned by the screening process at the ports of entry into Zimbabwe. ZADHR provides the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport as a case study. We are informed that not all passengers are subjected to physical verification of travel history. This provides a loophole for the unchecked entry of high-risk visitors without due screening,” it said in a statement.
“We also established that no follow-up on whether visitors from high risk areas are in self-quarantine or not.”
It urged government to set up a State-managed facility that quarantines all travellers from high risk countries for 14 days.
Wilkins Hospital, the designated isolation centre, does not have any respiratory support equipment, with ventilators being borrowed from a private facility hospital in Harare when needed, ZADHR added.
Said Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo: “While we appreciate efforts that are being put by government to try to prevent the spread of the virus, we believe that these are not enough and the government must take the next decisive act of shutting down the country.”
Opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said Zimbabwe must end the “business as usual” approach in dealing with the scourge, saying there should be a lockdown immediately for the safety of the people.
“Under these circumstances, extraordinary measures should be taken. We need an emergency response system that activates all systems and State machinery,” he said.
Government said it had received supplies from the Jack Ma and Alibaba Foundation, including testing kits.
Harare City Council yesterday said it would remove vendors from undesignated points around the capital in an operation with the police, including Mbare Musika.
“Harare City Council, hereby, informs all vendors trading at undesignated sites to immediately vacate such places as part of efforts to minimise human contact in the fight against the coronavirus,” council spokesperson Michael Chideme said.