A debate erupted in the Zimbabwean Parliament after the Minister of Health and Child Care Obadiah Moyo presented his ministerial statement on the state of affairs with regards to the Coronavirus outbreak.
On 20 February 2020, Moyo told the House of Assembly that his ministry was generally happy with the country's state of preparedness with regards to the deadly virus.
“Let us have a look at the response to the Coronavirus outbreak by Zimbabwe. The national response mechanism for surveillance and early detection of any possible cases was activated as of 24th January, 2020 and by mid February capacity building of all identified thematic areas to deal effectively with any cases had been conducted.
“We also held bilateral discussions with the Chinese Embassy. We further had a tour of Victoria Falls International Airport and also the ground port to assess their surveillance system. The quarantine and isolation facility and the district of Hwange state of preparedness.
“As we indicated before, our laboratory testing for Coronavirus is also fully functional and our scientists have managed to test the travellers and confirmed them to be negative for Coronavirus as authorities in China had also confirmed.
“So we can guarantee the nation that there is no Coronavirus in Zimbabwe,” he said.
He added that a tour his ministry recently conducted revealed that Victoria Falls airport had the best facility in terms of isolation and quarantine facilities.
He however, urged citizens to be wary of the virus and to practise the highest standards of hygiene at all times, and called on Zimbabweans wishing to visit China to postpone such visits unless when absolutely necessary until the scourge has been declared over.
"Let us stop this issue of travelling to China completely. No travelling to China please at this stage, stay in your country and stop shopping," he said.
The virus was first noticed on the 30th of December 2019 as a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown origin reported to the China National Health Commission on the 7th of January 2020.
The source of this outbreak was traced to the Huanan seafood wholesale market which was then closed on 1st January 2020.
COVID-19 is a respiratory infection caused by Coronaviruses and these are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from a common cold to severe disease such as the middle eastern respiratory syndrome and also what was generally referred to as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The outbreak in China is from a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Corona Viruses are transmitted between animals to humans and from human to human.
The minister said in order to reduce the risk of infection with the new Coronavirus, it is important to avoid close contact with anyone with a cold or flu-like symptoms. Prevent unprotected contact with farm or wild animals, and practice the highest standards of hygiene.
As of the 20th of February 2020, Moyo said there were no cases of Coronavirus in Zimbabwe.
“As of the 19th, which is yesterday, the total number of cases worldwide now stands at 75 204 with 1872 new cases and 2009 deaths. The majority of cases which is 74 280 are all from China but cases have also been reported in 25 countries, 924 cases in those 25 countries and three deaths, with one case reported in Egypt,” he said.
The minister added that on 31st January, 2020 the National Rapid Response Team through the emergency operations centre, completed a day long Coronavirus readiness checklist for Zimbabwe to see what was in place, what were the gaps as well as could be done.
“We have had training again on the 17th February, 2020 at Wilkins Infectious Diseases where we trained a total of 70 health care workers and the process of training health workers is still ongoing.
“The train trainers were drawn from Harare, Kadoma, Mutare and most of the cities in Zimbabwe. These also included the private health institutions, the private hospitals, the private laboratories and this training will be continuous with the support of the national rapid response team and also support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and NSF,” he said.
Moyo assured the nation that Zimbabwean students in China are all safe and well taken care of for their day to day needs, including facilitating communication, food and lessons and that the Embassy was in constant touch with the Zimbabwean students.
Meanwhile, in his contribution to the debate Chegutu West Member of Parliament, Honourable Dexter Nduna applauded the Minister for a job well done and for bringing the statement to the House for debate.
However, he expressed concern over the issue of control of informal entries into the country and asked what the ministry was doing in order to curtail the informal illegal crossing points.
He proposed that detection mechanisms be established at toll gates, so that those who would have ‘border-jumped’ may be checked for the virus and have appropriate measures taken in time.
Responding to Hon. Nduna, Moyo said setting up detention centres at toll gates would affect the free movement of people.
“The Hon. Member was suggesting that we have checks at toll gates. I think if we do that then we will have a big problem, it means that we are now stopping all the travelling Zimbabweans, that is internal, we only want the ones from outside to be stopped and checked.
“It is the borders we have to protect and it is them we have to make full proof,” said Moyo.
Harare East MP Hon. Tendai Biti chipped in saying the Minister should not have said that there has been no cases and deaths from this terrible disease because of the country’s preparedness.
He added that the country’s health institutions are in poor form and that it would be wrong to credit the country’s preparedness as a reason for not having Coronavirus deaths.
"My submission Hon. Speaker, is that people have not died by the grace of God and it is not by our own positive actions in protecting our people.
“My point is that we should be grateful to God that no life has been lost rather than to our own systems of preparedness,” he said.
He went on to say that Zimbabwe’s responsiveness still leaves a lot to be desired. "If you pass through the airport coming from outside Zimbabwe, the medical assistant will ask you where you are coming from. So she will say to you; are you coming from China and your answer is no.
“Once you say that, there is no other verification that you are coming from China or not. So it is by the grace of God that no one has died. Surely Hon. Speaker, there should be an independent verification of where a person is coming from," he said.
Hon. Biti also bemoaned the continent's disaster preparedness, saying there is a disproportionate number of people who have died from lack of preparedness across Africa.
“My recommendation to the Minister is that, given the recent emergence of these epidemics like SARS, ebola and coronavirus it is time that the Republic of Zimbabwe establishes a specialised health department.
“In America, they have got the CDC which is the Centre for Disease Control. Let us have our own equivalent institution that is mobilised to deal with these unexplained urgent epidemics that has now become the order of the day,” he said.
Hon. Biti also said the budget allocation of US$5.2 million, which according to the report had just been disbursed is not good enough, saying it is a petty cash budget.
He further called for the government to create a database so that the number of Zimbabweans in China can be accounted for at a click of a button.
“I have got a nephew who is studying in China. It took weeks before the authorities in Zimbabwe through the embassy had collected the names and database of the students that are at that university.
He concluded by saying it is his submission that the country had not done enough to protect its students at home and abroad. Adding that not much has also been done regarding institutions which are exposed, for instance Chinese restaurants here in Zimbabwe.
Uzumba MP Hon. Simbaneuta Mudarikwa called for a seminar to be conducted where experts from the ministry would explain to the MPs what is coronavirus so that the parliamentarians who would in turn go to their constituencies and explain to the masses.
“The Minister must also give us 10 000 pamphlets per constituency to go and educate our people because the issue of awareness is critical in any health delivery programme,” he said.
Minister Moyo applauded the contributions by the MPs saying he was impressed with the level of questions, the quality of the questions and all that the legislators had said.
He also concurred with Biti’s submission that all credit should be rendered to the Lord. “The issue that we do not have any deaths at the moment, we thank God that we are all alive. It is a reality and we all have to pray to God that this thing does not come to Zimbabwe,” he added.
He went on to say the matter needed a collective effort and not blame shifting or finger pointing.
“This is not a time when we should be challenging each other. It is a time when we have to advise each other.
“I am very grateful that I have heard so many useful comments coming from Honourable Members, irrespective of the political divide giving me all sorts of suggestions, which is good; we have to protect our lives as Zimbabweans, that is key irrespective of whichever party you belong to.
"It is our health and our survival to be able to carry on,” he added.
— My Zimbabwe News