MEDICAL practitioners have urged government to consider establishing makeshift health centres for COVID-19 admissions as the country’s health institutions are inundated with severe cases needing hospitalisation.
The health experts told NewsDay that hospitals were overwhelmed with patients infected by the respiratory virus, resulting in shortages of beds and equipment required to provide the necessary care.
For almost a month, Zimbabwe has been under level four lockdown, which prohibits public gatherings and intercity travel, among other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Government is set to review the lockdown measures today. On July 14, the country recorded 3 110 new infections, and two days later, 102 deaths, the highest figures since the first case was recorded in March last year.
However, there were decreases in both new infections and deaths recorded over the weekend.
The Health and Child Care ministry situational report on Sunday said 617 new cases were recorded, with a slight decrease in the seven-day rolling average of 2 039, while 44 people succumbed to the respiratory disease.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa said there was need for an alternative plan to ensure that patients do not succumb to the virus due to failure to access medical care.
He said due to the likely continued requirement for hospital admission for severe cases, more intensive care support was needed, including erection of temporary health centres.
“The vaccination rollout programme is vital for us to win the battle against the virus. Government is working towards ensuring that we achieve herd immunity by October this year and it is commendable,” Marisa said.
“However, the vaccination exercise, (due to) complacency, is ineffective to combat the spread of the virus when we have not yet reached herd immunity to vaccinate 60% of the population.
“With the public failing to adhere to the protocols, new cases will continue to rise, and government should remain alert and consider erecting temporary health centres at stadiums and other public spaces to ensure that those who would be suffering from severe complications will get medical care.”
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Solwayo Ngwenya warned of the continued loss of lives due to complacency, adding that reckless citizens were putting health workers’ lives at risk, which could affect service delivery at health institutions.
“Life is increasingly difficult for us. All the extreme complacency ends up in our hands and endangering our lives and our families. The public is putting health workers at risk,” Ngwenya said.
Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary Norman Matara said government should urgently equip health institutions, especially district hospitals, considering that rural areas have now become COVID-19 hotspots.
“COVID -19 has caused mass infections, which has led to mass hospitalisation. In the next few weeks, there will be an even higher demand for hospitalisation,” he said.
“The Delta variant is deadlier as it infects a higher number of people, unlike the previous waves.”
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo, said: “Health institutions in the country are handling many cases, and what it means when we have more cases and less recoveries, is that health institutions and staff are overwhelmed. We are concerned over this, we have a shortage of staff, beds, medication and have poor infrastructure, and this obviously leads to hospitals being overburdened.”
Dongo said if people observed World Health Organisation preventive protocols, it would reduce the need for hospitalisation.
“If people continue moving around carelessly, attending funerals due to their cultural norms, going to church and partying, the situation will worsen. They must adjust to the new way of life, where one can pass condolences to a relative on the phone when there is a funeral than physically attend,” he said.
Dongo said a significant number of health workers had succumbed to the virus, while others were in isolation after contracting it.
To curb more infections, government targets to procure 12 million vaccine doses.
On Sunday, the country received one million doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine.
Speaking at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Sunday, Health deputy minister John Mangwiro said government would utilise police stations as COVID-19 vaccination centres to speed up the inoculation exercise since demand had increased.
“The vaccination is no longer happening at government hospitals only, council clinics are vaccinating, police stations have also been asked to act as vaccination centres,” he said.
“Even if we attain national herd immunity, but many people in a certain community are not vaccinated, that community remains at risk.”
Meanwhile, business operators have pleaded with government to consider easing lockdown measures and extend operating hours so that daily sales improve.
Under the current lockdown measures, business opens at 8am and closes at 3:30pm.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers Association president Denford Mutashu said there was need to strike a balance and to allow businesses to operate.
“We urge government to relax the COVID-19 measures to increase operating hours for businesses. Some business operators have not been able to resuscitate operations after the hard lockdown imposed early last year,” he said.
Mutashu said failure to run profitably had resulted in businesses failing to settle debts, which saw them being sued.
“We are also advocating for clear modalities on how business will be operating to avoid confusion and misunderstanding in enforcement and compliance,” he said.