BULAWAYO could be headed for another lockdown as health experts and government fear a deadly second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak following a surge in confirmed cases and deaths in the city in recent days.
By NQOBANI NDLOVU
Bulawayo is emerging as the country’s Covid-19 epicentre following the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. health experts say the city’s ill-equipped and already stretched health facilities will be easily overwhelmed.
As of Friday, Zimbabwe had 315 active confirmed cases with Bulawayo having the highest number at 94 and the city has been reporting deaths almost every day as of November 10, the Health and Child Care ministry said.
Bulawayo is followed by Harare with 69 active cases, Midlands 46 and Matabeleland South at 40 while Mashonaland Central has the least with one single active case.
Government and medical experts said the rise in Covid-19 cases in Bulawayo was disturbing, but not surprising because of the way members of the public were not adhering to measures to prevent the spread of the disease such as wearing masks.
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs minister Judith Ncube said a return to another lockdown was inevitable.
Ncube said the government would be announcing new localised measures to fight the pandemic.
“We have a problem on our hands,” she said.
“We had a meeting last Saturday with the Local Government minister July Moyo where various strategies were mooted.
“We are having a follow-up meeting where we expect to get presentations from health experts before we announce the strategies.
“We are looking at the hotspots…at the end of the day any measures or approach that we announce or come up with has to be effective to tame the spread because we cannot sit back and watch as the disease keeps spreading in the communities.”
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo said if government delayed in re-looking the preventive measures, the situation may be uncontrollable and deadly as health facilities were ill-equipped.
“Government has not relaxed the restrictions on paper, but practically, people have thrown caution to the wind and it is business as usual as if there is no Covid-19,” Dongo said.
“However, with our economic crisis and state of our hospitals, people will die as we don’t have the capacity.
“We are heading for disaster if measures are not taken, and urgently.
“We better rejuvenate the restrictions because if we keep on as we are now, there is going to be a disaster and people will die in numbers.”
Bulawayo has four designated Covid-19 treatment centres, Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital, the Old Bartley Memorial Block within the United Bulawayo Hospitals and Ekusileni Medical Centre which remains closed.
The fourth centre is the privately-owned Mater Dei Hospital.
Government has announced that Ekusileni, which has experienced several false starts since its closure in 2004, will open for Covid-19 patients on November 30.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga toured the National Social Security Authority-owned facility in October where he committed to ensure its operationalisation.
Ekusileni, a brainchild of the late vice-president Joshua Nkomo, was lying derelict after it was shut down in 2004 shortly after opening its doors.
It was closed after it was discovered that equipment worth millions of dollars acquired by the Zimbabwean Health Care Trust, after renting it from NSSA, was obsolete.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike argued the city’s health facilities can be easily overwhelmed by Covid-19.
“Bulawayo Metropolitan province does not have a good referral system due to lack of district and provincial hospitals, hence the increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases may end up overwhelming the capacity of health institutions,” Rusike said.
Rusike attributed the rise in Covid-19 cases to a number of factors such as having a higher number of returning residents coming back from South Africa, a hot spot country for Covid-19 in the region.
“Some of the returning residents using undesignated entry points at our porous borders are not going through the proper Covid-19 screening process,” he said.
“There are also social inequalities in the response to Covid-19 that provides less access to and continuity to care for Covid-19 and other health problems.
“It raises burdens on those, who are already vulnerable.
“The chronic underfunding of and weaknesses in our public health services undermine care for poorer communities.”
Rusike called for a speedy resolution of the transport and water crisis as it made people “susceptible to severe effects of the Covid-19 virus”.
Effie Ncube, a communications officer for a Bulawayo citizen-led initiative to fight the spread of the coronavirus that runs under the banner Citizens Covid-19 Monitor, also called for stricter measures to enforce Covid-19 preventive measures.