9th ParliamentHealth

Ministerial Statement on Coronavirus preparedness




: Mr Speaker Sir, I hereby present before this august House the state of affairs with regards to the Coronavirus outbreak. This outbreak has become a worldwide phenomenon and I just want to give you the background on the evolution of this outbreak of this novel Coronavirus of 2019. We say novel because it is a new virus which has now been renamed COVID-19.

This started on the 30t 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 Sea Food wholesale market which was then closed on 1st January 2020. COVID-19 is a respiratory infection caused by Corona Viruses 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. It is what we call a zoonotic disease. The symptoms of the COVID-19 include fever, chest pain, chills, difficulty in breathing, headache, sore throat, cough, pneumonia and even kidney failure. The Coronavirus infection is highly infectious and can be spread through aerosols or through the air via coughing, sneezing and close personal contact with an infected person such as touching or shaking hands, touching an infected object like a doorknob then touching your mouth or face without washing your face can also spread the virus. Faecal contamination is also one of the roots of spreading the virus although it is very rare.

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, cover the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue paper or flex elbow, wash hands with soap and running water after sneezing and coughing and when caring for the sick, after toilet use, before eating food, during and after preparing food, continuous washing of hands because hands are dirty and after handling animal and animal waste – it can be worse.

As of today, there are 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. So, Mr Speaker Sir, you can see that there is an exponential rise in the disease. Last week it was at 28 000 in China and that has suddenly risen to 75 000.

As of Wednesday 19th February 2020 – 3 373 people who have passed through our ports of entry have had to be placed on self-quarantine. Of these 2 000 are Zimbabwean students who were studying in China and they are on self-quarantine on the 21 days surveillance to ensure that we detect any symptoms early. I can safely confirm that a female Zimbabwean traveller was identified through our surveillance system at Robert Mugabe International Airport having noted that she had been to the epicentre of this Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

In order to protect our nation, the candidate had to be immediately isolated and to me, this shows that our system is working well and it is a sign of good 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.

Mr Speaker Sir, we will, however, as per protocol, continue to monitor this candidate for the 21 days prescribed period. Our protocol continues to be stringent and protective of our nation and to further strengthen our surveillance a scientific approach requiring all travellers coming from China are to be screened and quarantined for 14 days in China and if they are found to be safe – they are to be issued with a clearance certificate to travel. When they get to Zimbabwe, they will still be subjected to a further 21-day quarantine.

The Ministry would like to urge the public and its stakeholders to remain vigilant against this disease. It is important that people contact the nearest health care provider for the correct information on the COVID-19 disease. All those with plans to visit China are in the meantime being encouraged to postpone the visits unless absolutely necessary until the scourge has been declared over.

Let us have a look at the response to the Coronavirus outbreak by Zimbabwe. Mr Speaker Sir, 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.

On 27th January 2020 Mr Speaker Sir, we managed to visit Robert Mugabe International Airport to assess the airport and port health state of preparedness. On the same day, we also held a press conference to discuss the ministry’s preparedness for the COVID-19 and in a meeting attended by the airport management, all key airport staff and media were available.

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. We found the airport at Victoria Falls as the best facility in terms of isolation and quarantine facilities.

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 is in place, what the gaps are and what can be done? The team has come up with a budgeted plan. Bulawayo’s Joshua Mqabuko Airport …

Beitbridge ground port and Plumtree ground port – we managed to visit all those to assess their readiness to detect and manage any possible cases of COVID-19. We shall continue to do so.

Mr Speaker Sir, I have personally made the assessments and have been to all the border areas. This coming week, I will be visiting the northern borders to make sure that we have thorough fool-proof border protection. We are also guided by the WHO Risk Assessment and the current Risk Assessment from WHO indicates that China has the highest risk. The rest of the global systems are at high risk. China is a very high risk and the West is a high risk meaning that we are living in a very tense situation in as far the Coronavirus is concerned.

So sensitization of professionals has been done for our college of primary care physicians., the Zimbabwe Medical Association and these shall be ongoing, educating and training all our doctors and all our physicians. Case management training is very essential so that by the time any of our doctors interact with a patient who is suspected of coronavirus, they can be able to manage them accordingly.

We have had training again on the 17th February 2020 at Wilkins Infectious Diseases where we trained a total of 70 health care workers. This is going to continue and we are going to be inviting and bringing forward more trainers of trainers and the flow of staff, they were shown how it is done, how staff have to look after the cases, the setup, isolation facility, the quality and how it should be. The cascading of the training to establish isolation facilities is continuous right through the country. We want each and every hospital to have an isolation room so that if at all they have a case or a suspect, they can be able to handle it then.

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. Mr Speaker Sir, I would like to indicate that a budget was prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Finance which stands at US$5.2 million, but this will be availed to us in tranches.

We have reconvened a national task force on epidemic-prone diseases with the Inter-Agency Coordination Committee today as a follow-up to the one which was convened on the 24th January 2020. I would also like to indicate that the Chinese Embassy has indicated its willingness to assist us in sprucing up our isolation treatment unit at Wilkins Hospital and all other isolation units. Our port health staff will show information with the Chinese to facilitate follow-up and monitoring. The Embassy will facilitate translation services at the ports of entry and isolation for ease of communication. The Embassy will also show locations where Chinese people are in Zimbabwe so that we can do more follow-up

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 the Embassy is in contact with our Zimbabwean students. The Chinese borders are not closed but they are discouraging their citizens from travelling to Zimbabwe.

In terms of awareness, this is a continuous process and we have prepared for printing information, education and communication materials for radio, television and other media blitz and job aids to assist medical and laboratory staff. One other issue which we have taken care of Mr Speaker Sir is that of protecting our staff. All those who are working at the borders – we have ensured that they are well protected. We are ensuring that all our staff are well trained in terms of protection. We do not want to end up with our own personnel being infected by the coronavirus.

We have job aides, strategic supplies of recommended medicines which are prepositioned. We have personal protective equipment, test kits and other requirements for managing any cases. They must be adequately protected themselves in order that they render the services properly. We have constantly engaged the medial in order to keep the population of Zimbabwe updated as the outbreak of the virus has been evolving.

As a new disease, there is quite a lot that we now know, but there is still a lot that we do not know. My team of experts will continue getting the updates from WHO, the African Union Centre for Disease Control and continue passing on information using the various communication platforms. I want to indicate to the Hon. Members here present that please be wary and be aware of the fact that there is no vaccine yet for the control of Coronavirus or COVID-19. What is available at the moment is as a result of some tests which were carried out by the Chinese and also one of the nations in Asia where they found that the use of the current antiretrovirals, (ARVs), one specific one called KALETRA which is a combination anti-retroviral which has Lopinavir and ritonavir and also in combination if using combination – with another booster called anti-interferon or an alpha-interferon can be able to reduce or stop the spread of the coronavirus.

So that is the only form of treatment which is there at the moment. There are quite a number of cases who have been saved from this particular combination treatment. At the moment, I want to also indicate that we are lucky that we have that KALETRA available here in Zimbabwe and we have made sure that it is distributed to all our treatment centres. What we are building on is the availability of the booster the alpha-interferon and we should be having it by next week, but with the KALETRA, we can be able to manage the patients with ease.

At the same time, as you saw, we managed to test the candidate from Wilkins and this is because we already acquired the test kits and we have the equipment. We have high calibre test equipment from high calibre manufacturers, high standard equipment for the testing of this virus. So there we are covered and I can assure you, everyone. The only problem is that the type of testing platform that we have takes a bit longer. At the moment it takes at least 5 hours before we get the result but it is better than the previous platforms which will take a week. We are awaiting the arrival of the test kits which will take about 15 minutes, just like when we are testing for HIV/AIDs which takes about 15 minutes. Mr Speaker Sir, that is my statement and I thank you.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is the news editor for OpenParlyZW an online platform that covers Parliament of Zimbabwe activities using social media (Twitter and Facebook). He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum and a board member of Digital Communication Network.

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