By Bathabile Dlamini
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, has seen a drop in covid-19 cases during the 30-day lockdown which began on the 5th of January and further extended to end on the 1 March 2021.
In December 2020, a spike in Covid-19 infections caused increased fears over the City’s ability to deal with Covid-19 cases. By the first week of January, 3 963 PCR tests were conducted in Bulawayo. Two hundred of these tests were positive taking the tally of active cases to 600.
The above chart displays trends of Covid-19 data analysis of daily records from MoHCC and of note is the gradual increase in Active Covid-19 cases in Bulawayo as the year began.
Pre-festive season statistics showed a slowdown in the rate of COVID19 infections countrywide, a factor that contributed to the easing of lockdown conditions and reopening of land borders to returning residents from neighbouring countries.
However, with festive season activities seeming to have led to limited observation of COVID19 precautionary measures, Bulawayo, as is the case with the rest of the country, found itself in murky waters.
“If we are not careful, this may [have been] the last festive season for many as Covid-19 is here and is affecting all age groups with ages of those admitted [in hospitals] with severe cases getting younger by the day,” says Zimbabwe Medical Association (Zima) Matabeleland region president, Dr. Wedu Ndebele.
With the lockdown having been in place for over 40 days, resulting in the rates of infections going down, there seems to be hope. This is amidst continued efforts to boost hospital capacity in the city and news that the government will be rolling out a vaccine soon.
A comparison of COVID-19 statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), on the 9th of January 2021 and on the 9th of February, a month later, show a 47% decline in active cases and more significantly 87% decline in new cases.
In the first week of January, 3 963 PCR tests were conducted in Bulawayo. Two hundred of these tests came out positive taking the tally of active cases to 600.
Concerns still linger on whether testing is being comprehensively done, raising concerns that there could be more unrecorded positive cases in communities due to factors like affordability with a PCR test costing US$60 testing centers like diagnostic laboratory Mater Dei Hospital, Lancet Laboratory and CIMAS.
“The rise in the infection rates at the beginning of the year may have been due to transmissions happening in the community. Worse still, people cannot afford to get tested for COVID19 due to huge costs of testing. So, there is a high chance that the January figures are a tip of something worse, thus as a local taskforce we resorted to community policing,” said Nkosana Mazibisa the local Covid19 taskforce chair in Lobengula who has been significantly involved in mobilizing youths in the neighbourhood to positively respond to COVID19.”
Given the high numbers of people sharing homes especially in high density areas and overcrowding at water bowser stations, communities are still at serious risk of contracting and spreading COVID19.
“Here in Makokoba we are really crowded and it’s impossible to social distance. I mean just here, it’s a 2 roomed house but there are 4 families residing here”, said Nomusa Ncube a resident in Makokoba.
This situation is compounded by further overcrowding at public transport access points, and loitering in the streets with no adherence to COVID19 precautions.
Given the limited COVID19 medical facilities, it is critical that Bulawayo residents become more vigilant in fighting COVID19 through adhering to precautionary measures such as staying at home, wearing their masks and engaging in physical distancing.
“Prevention remains our best shot in fighting and beating COVID19,” says Thandolwenkosi Nkomo, communications consultant at I Am for Bulawayo Fighting Covid19 Trust. He added: “This is something that needs to emphasised over and over so that we avoid a catastrophic situation in the City”.
Furthermore, residents need to avoid all types of gatherings and adjust cultural norms of attending funeral wakes which serve as mini super spreader events.