THIRTEEN staff members at Mater Dei Hospital in Bulawayo and everyone at a retirement village in Suburbs where a 79-year-old man who succumbed to Covid-19 on Saturday lived, have been placed under isolation as more people he came into contact with are being traced.
Those asked to go under self-isolation include doctors and nurses who attended to the patient at the hospital.
The victim whose name has been withheld by health officials lived at Qalisa Retirement Village.
His family lives at another house in the same suburb.
The city’s rapid response team is still tracing a network of people who were in contact with the deceased so that they get tested for Covid-19 and their number is expected to increase.
Health officials are interested in examining private doctors, staff at pharmacies, family members, nurse aides and others at Qalisa as well as in Hwange where the deceased visited.
Although the victim did not travel out of the country, Government is looking into his travel history as he visited Hwange in Matabeleland North between March 14 and 16 where he is alleged to have met some tourists at a lodge in the mining town.
The victim who became the 11th patient to test positive for Covid-19 in the country and the first person in Bulawayo, was posthumously confirmed to have succumbed to the virus on Tuesday, making him the second person to die in the country.
A Chronicle news crew yesterday visited Mater Dei Hospital to assess the situation and observed that it had not closed its doors as alleged on social media.
Staffers who spoke to the news crew on condition of anonymity said an alert Covid-19 rapid response team disinfected the hospital and closed the ward in which the 79-year-old died soon after he succumbed to the virus on Saturday.
Bulawayo City Council director of health services Dr Edwin Sibanda said although Bulawayo had not yet received the Covid-19 results when the man died at Mater Dei Hospital on Saturday, they took precautionary measures by treating him as a suspected positive Covid-19 case even before results were released.
He said although samples from the victim were taken on Friday, there were challenges transporting them to Harare on the same day, as they rely on courier service providers.
Dr Sibanda said the samples were only sent to Harare for testing on Monday, when the patient had already died.
“But when he passed on the rapid response team was informed and went there and did all the disinfection as per protocol. Then the body was removed under the supervision of the environmental health officers and was taken to Bulawayo United Hospitals mortuary under strict conditions where it was kept, as we did not have the results that this was a Covid-19 case. But we thought it was likely to be a Covid-19 case so we treated it as if it was,” said Dr Sibanda.
He said when results were delivered confirming that the man had died of Covid-19 on Tuesday, the rapid response team started tracing those who had been in contact with the deceased.
Dr Sibanda said at Mater Dei Hospital, 13 people including doctors and nurses have had their samples taken for Covid-19 testing.
He said the victim first visited a private doctor in the city before going to Mater Dei Hospital.
“For example, there is a story that he was seen at a lodge in Matabeleland North and we have told the provincial rapid response team to start tracing those he might have contacted. The dates and places where he went or was suspected to have gone. So, they have to make follow ups of the possible contacts. So those in hospital that he got in contact with, samples were collected yesterday. In our last count last night, 13 people have had their samples and I’m sure today a few more samples should have been collected,” said Dr Sibanda.
He said the network of his contacts could be much wider and they were doing all they can not to leave anyone behind including his relatives and private doctors.
“When he continued feeling unwell he went to the hospital so we are talking of him starting from the hospital admissions, right up to the ward and eventually going to the Intensive Care Unit where a suspicion of Covid-19 was made and it is at that point that our rapid response team was alerted and came. Prior to that, all these people were not followed up,” he said.
Dr Sibanda said health workers were closely working with the victim’s family to cremate him in line with public health standards in view of Covid-19 and the procedure should have been done yesterday.
He said as health care workers, they are not obliged to bury a deceased within 24-hours of death as has been proposed by funeral parlours.
Dr Sibanda said funeral parlours can get direction from health workers who are guided by the public burial and cremation laws. He said the issue of delays in accessing and releasing results for Covid-19 lies with centralised testing done in Harare and this challenge will only be addressed when they start local tests soon.
In that regard, Dr Sibanda said, testing at the National University of Science and Technology and Mpilo Central Hospital will soon be conducted to address the logistical challenges, that saw the 79-year-old’s sample being tested two days after his death.
The deputy chairperson of Qalisa Retirement Village, identified only as Mr Monks, said health authorities had put in place precautionary measures on Tuesday and no one is allowed to go in or leave the village.
He said so far only people who were in close contact with the deceased at the village had been tested for Covid-19. “The Ministry of Health people have come here and done tests and put procedures in place. They have done tests on people who were close to that person. So, if those tests come positive, they will have to do tests for everybody,” he said. “Nobody is coming out and nobody is coming in since yesterday (Tuesday).”
The manager of Ganda Lodge in Hwange District, Mr Runyararo Murandu declined to comment yesterday.
Health and Child Care Ministry Permanent Secretary Dr Agnes Mahomva said Government was working on contact tracing to identify those who were in touch with the deceased.
“Our teams are actually chasing up and making sure that they get everybody who got in touch with him is tested. Once again that is part of contact tracing, he had not gone out of the country but he did indicate that he was in Hwange where it is suspected that he mingled with some tourists and those tourists have gone either to the United Kingdom and where they come from. But we are also chasing up anyone in Hwange whom he might have been in contact with.
Through contact tracing, we are relying on the history where he has been, whom has been in contact with and we continue moving with that map,” said Dr Mahomva.
“Our teams are being trained to make ensure that the minute they suspect a Covid-19 case they take it as if it’s a confirmed case. The patient did not miss out on anything.”
She said people were justified to be concerned about the low number of people who are being tested for Covid-19.
Dr Mahomva said since they want to test more people, they have come up with criterion of testing those who are at high risk of contracting the disease.
“You need to set a criteria, so that you are indeed getting the right people with the limited resources that you have. I’m glad that we have more tests kits and our testing is going to ramp up. So, we need the public to get the idea of prioritising and also appreciating that as a Ministry we definitely want to test more,” said Dr Mahomva.
Dr Mahomva said it was saddening that people are violating lockdown measures yet the best way to prevent the spread of the virus was to stay at home and maintain social distances.
Matabeleland North provincial medical officer Dr Purgie Chimbengerengwa said the province has activated its rapid response team to look into the victim’s contacts.
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister Cde Judith Ncube said the positive Covid-19 case should be a wake-up call for residents to comply with lockdown measures.
She said it was worrying that residents were seemingly ignoring the 21-day lockdown as they are always seen aimlessly moving in the central business district and residential areas.