From zero Covid-19 infections at the beginning of this month, Bulawayo has become the country’s Covid-19 epicentre with 10 cases, overtaking Harare which all along had the highest number of cases.
When April started, Harare had the most Covid-19 cases followed by Mashonaland East. Matabeleland North had one case, while Bulawayo had none.
Harare is now second with eight cases.
Failure to adhere to lockdown and self-isolation measures have been cited as the main reasons why Bulawayo recorded increased Covid-19 cases this week.
Although the country’s first case was confirmed on March 20, 2020 and involved a 38-year-old male from Victoria Falls who had returned from the United Kingdom, he self-isolated at home and so far, none of his contacts have tested positive.
Health authorities yesterday said people disregarding lockdown measures and not observing social distancing while queuing for basic commodities and other services, could result in a further increase in Covid-19 cases.
On Wednesday, a record five new cases were confirmed in Bulawayo.
Newly appointed acting Bulawayo Provincial Medical Director Dr Welcome Mlilo yesterday said non-compliance to lockdown measures in general and self-isolation orders are the main reasons why the city has increased cases.
“From what I have seen people initially responded very well to lockdown measures but all of a sudden, it seems people have taken a view that they are on holiday, children playing on the streets and others unnecessarily going to town. There is so much unnecessary movement if I can put it that way,” said Dr Mlilo.
“It’s an issue of whether we are following the lockdown measures that have been put in place. Are people observing the lockdown? Are the citizens of Bulawayo observing the lockdown? Are we following the messages that are coming from the Ministry of Health and Child Care, hand washing, are we practicing social-distancing? those are the key issues that play an important role in controlling this outbreak.”
Dr Mlilo said the local rapid response team was working with security forces to make sure that the public is protected from Covid-19.
He said the local rapid response team was tracing individuals who may have been in contact with the confirmed cases in the city.
Dr Mlilo said city health officials were doing a splendid job in tracing all the suspected cases while stressing the need to observe all lockdown measures.
“The public needs to understand that Covid-19 is with us. It’s not a theory. So, going forward we need to be responsible for each other. We should protect each other by adhering to the advice that the Ministry of Health and Child Care has been giving,” said Dr Mlilo.
Another health expert, Dr Ritta Dlodlo said the increase in Covid-19 cases in Bulawayo shows that the city is effective in tracing suspected Covid-19 patients.
She also said testing for Covid-19 at Mpilo Central Hospital, which started on Sunday has contributed to the city testing more cases.
“It suggests that our response team is working. The health services department led by Dr Edwin Sibanda and Dr Khulamuzi Nyathi and all the teams working on the rapid response are doing the right thing, which is looking and detecting persons who may have symptoms.
“The people may have travelled or not travelled abroad or have met someone who might have travelled abroad where Covid-19 outbreak is at an advanced stage,” said Dr Dlodlo.
Zimbabwe Medical Association president Dr Francis Mavuka Chiwora said defiance of lockdown measures by residents is of concern for the city as it can lead to an increase in local transmissions.
“The numbers that we are having here are community transmissions, it’s people being in contact with people around. Rather than those who have been infected coming from outside.
“So, if the lockdown is not as effective as we have already alluded to, then we are going to have community transmissions and that is a very dangerous situation. We need as Bulawayo to enforce our lockdown more strictly and people should actually stay in their homes,” said Dr Chiwora.
He said the Ministry of Health and Child Care should also expedite mass testing as some patients can unknowingly be spreading the virus.
“The other thing is that every case that we have identified is of people who are sick. We test them because they are sick but there are others who might have the virus but do not feel sick and are not tested.
“This is one of the dangers that we have. We need to be testing more not wait for someone to fall sick. Remember less than 20 percent of the people who contract the virus feel sick, so 80 percent may not feel sick but passing the virus to other people. That is where the danger lies.”
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister Judith Ncube said residents will be fooling themselves if they do not adhere to lockdown procedures.