The Sunday News
Thupeyo Muleya and Vusumuzi Dube, Sunday News Reporters
ZIMBABWE is in danger of witnessing a spike in Covid-19 cases after 14 returnees from South Africa who tested positive to the virus escaped from Beitbridge quarantine and isolation centre on Friday.
Police have immediately launched a manhunt for the escapees after they sneaked out of National Social Security Authority (Nssa) Hotel in Beitbridge soon after polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests confirmed that they were Covid-19 positive.
Four of the escapees have since been arrested and put back into quarantine, officials said yesterday. Chairperson of the Beitbridge Covid-19 Task Force, Mrs Sikhangaziwe Mafu-Moyo said police were pursuing the other escapees, who are a danger to society as they can infect people they interact with.
“The police are busy on the ground pursuing them through their given addresses and contacts. We believe they will catch up with them soon and we advise people to notify either the police or health workers should they locate these people who have tested positive for Covid-19,” she said.
According to Mrs Mafu-Moyo, those who escaped from the quarantine centre are Mercy Ndou (32) of Chaswingo, Beitbridge, Tumelo Nyathi (24), from Chief Staudze area in Beitbridge, Patience Mudau (26) of Chaswingo, Beitbridge, Innocent Sibanda (20) of Chipise, Beitbridge, Venson Siwela (33) of Magwegwe in Bulawayo, Brenda Magayisa (31) of Dulivhadzimu, Beitbridge and David Mubvumbi (23) of Gokwe.
The other escapees were identified as Tapiwa Moyo (29) of Mberengwa, Godfrey Moyo (26) of Beitbridge Town, Wiseman Ngwenya (31) of Beitbridge Town, Morgen Moyo (23) of Madaulo, Beitbridge, Alex Mbedzi (35) of Chipise, Beitbridge, Thatho Mazibeli (20) of Masera, Beitbridge and Calvin Bete (25) of Chivhu.
Some of the escapees are part of those who were deported for violating immigration laws in the neighbouring country and were intercepted in different towns in Gauteng and Limpopo provinces.
So far 1 089 people have been deported from South Africa and 3 456 have returned on their own since the start of the lockdown.
National police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said so far 225 people have escaped from quarantine centres across the country and 29 have been arrested. Police officer commanding Beitbridge, Chief Superintendent Tichaona Nyongo told Parliamentarians from the joint committees on Local Government, Peace and Security recently that there was a need to install barbed wire at the Nssa Hotel to minimise cases of people escaping.
“We have deployed manpower within and outside the quarantine but you will note that when that facility was built it was meant to be a hotel and now its use has changed and hence we should upgrade the security.
“The other challenge we are having with those that escape from quarantine is that they give false names and addresses upon arrival. We have tried to pursue several people but more often we hit brick walls,” said Chief Supt Nyongo. On Friday President Mnangagwa hinted that Government was considering reviewing the lockdown regulations due to the massive increase in Covid-19 positive cases. By Friday, the country had recorded 942 Covid-19 positive cases, 320 recoveries, 609 active cases and 13 deaths since the onset of the outbreak on 20 March. There were 16 new cases reported on Friday.
Addressing the Zanu-PF Ordinary Session of the Politburo meeting, the President said while the strategies that had been implemented by the country to date to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic were bearing fruit, there was a need to review the lockdown restrictions owing to the recent spike in infections.
Posting on his Twitter account last Wednesday, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Mr Nick Mangwana said with the number of new cases in Bulawayo and Harare, there was need to consider tighening lockdown regulations in the two cities. Bulawayo had on Friday recorded 162 cases with Harare having recorded 288 cases.
“Harare has the vast majority of positive Covid-19 cases. Yesterday (Tuesday), Bulawayo recorded 30 of the 53 positive cases. If there is any scaling up of containment measures, a more surgical approach is better. It means full-scale lockdown should only apply to Harare and Bulawayo,” wrote Mr Mangwana.
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Dr Solwayo Ngwenya who has been vocal on the need for people to change their attitude relating to the pandemic, said what the Government and the general public should realise was that the country was yet to experience its worst wave of the pandemic. He said between August and September health experts were predicting that the country would experience a surge in infections and deaths due to Covid-19 hence the need for a change in approach by the Government.
“As health experts we are extremely worried with what is happening especially the behaviour of the public, people have totally disregarded social distancing measures, they are behaving as if there is no coronavirus. They wear masks incorrectly covering the mouth and leaving nose out, which is the major outlet which the virus goes through.
“We are further seeing the worrying trend of people actually dying from this pandemic, people are dying at home and diagnosed from the mortuary which means this thing is unknown and is already within our community. What is approaching with this winter is what is already happening in South Africa, there is going to be a massive surge in cases if nothing is done,” said Dr Ngwenya.
He said police must up their monitoring exercise on lockdown.
“We appreciate the Presidential thinking on reviewing the lockdown measures but while this lockdown has to be tightened the President has to consult widely on how he can keep the economy also functional. The truth is that everyone now knows of this virus but for most they have not yet had a first-hand account hence their resistance, so in the time being while the President consults on this pending review the police should now come in with a heavy hand in monitoring the public’s adherence to lockdown regulations.
But at the end of the day as health experts we would prefer a full blown lockdown for everyone except key workers, which I am confident is coming,” said Dr Ngwenya.