Questions abound over the death of a 79-year-old Bulawayo man due to the highly infectious coronavirus (COVID-19) disease amid revelations that his samples were sent for testing in Harare two days after his death.
The man’s name has been withheld for ethical reasons.
He is the country’s 11th confirmed COVID-19 case and second death.
But several questions arise as to where the man contracted the coronavirus from since his only travel history was local.
It is also believed the man received a visitor from the United Kingdom, one of the worst countries hit by COVID-19, although details of when that unidentified visitor entered the country are still sketchy.
Investigations by CITE indicate the deceased visited a lodge in Hwange from March 14 to 16.
In an interview with CITE, Assistant Director of Health Services, Dr Khulamuzi Nyathi, said days after his return, the man developed a sore throat and fever.
“He sought the attention of his General Practitioner but it is not yet clear if the man went to the surgery or received attention from his home. His doctor gave him antibiotics but his situation didn’t improve until he went to Mater Dei,” he said.
The man was admitted at Mater Dei Hospital on April 2.
The city health official noted that at this stage, his condition did not raise any alarms.
“He went to Mater Dei as anyone who is sick. This man had no travel history, he just went to Hwange and there was no COVID-19 case there, except the case in Victoria Falls nor was there a case in Bulawayo,” he explained.
But the man’s condition worsened on Friday and he was moved to the intensive care unit and was given oxygen and other medication.
A physician was called to attend to the man and the hospital authorities later summoned the rapid response team who came and collected a sample for testing for COVID-19
He succumbed to the pandemic the following day.
Dr Nyathi revealed that although the rapid response team took his samples on Friday, they only managed to send them to Harare on Monday by courier.
“We went to Mater Dei on Friday and took specimens, unfortunately, we courier them to Harare, as we can’t take them ourselves due to the lockdown. So the samples couldn’t go on Saturday but were only sent Monday to Harare. The results came back Tuesday,” he said.
All COVID-19 testing is currently done at the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory at the Sally Mugabe in Hospital.
Dr Nyathi lamented that if only the City of Bulawayo could conduct its own COVID-19 tests, they would have managed to “run around” in time.
“The challenge is we don’t do our testing, if we can do our tests ourselves, we would have run around that Friday,” he said.
After the man’s death, the Assistant Health Director, said the rapid response team went in to disinfect the hospital.
“We disinfected the room where the deceased was and the equipment which was used. His body was also disinfected and put it into a body bag. We took all the necessary precautions to isolate him and wrapped him in protective equipment. His body will be cremated, as means of disposal” Dr Nyathi said.
The cremation was to be done this Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the rapid response team is now tracing all the people the deceased came in contact with.
“We have to take the specimens of all these people for tests. We are still in the process to identify them, even authorities in Hwange are also doing the same. We have to know who he was with in the vehicle he used to travel to Hwange, who he stays with at home but we have found his doctor,” he said.
As to how many people they had traced including the medical staff who tended to him at Mater Dei, Dr Nyathi said “this is still a process.”
He also noted the rapid response team was looking for the UK visitor who had visited the deceased.
“At this stage we don’t know if it was them who brought the virus or if they went together to Hwange but we are alive to the fact that are a number of tourists who visit Hwange too. These are the unanswered questions that we have,” said the city health official.
Asked whether Mater Dei had set up an isolation centre, Dr Nyathi said after Minister of Health and Child Care visited Bulawayo on his initial visit on the city’s state of preparedness in February 7, he indicated the private hospital must start preparations to house patients.
“The minister said since people who travelled were prone to the virus and could afford private health care, if there was a case, some would seek services of a private facility. Mater Dei started fixing for such and told us they had bought personal protective equipment (PPE) and were resuscitating an isolation or holding centre for referrals.”
Dr Nyathi claimed the city officials did not know the man’s status as they had to be sure it was a confirmed COVID-19 case lest they cause alarm, not only to the deceased family but to other people.
“We learnt Tuesday after the results came that he was positive for COVID-19. As for spraying and disinfecting the city centre, this is an ongoing activity and was not tied to the man’s death. It was mere coincidence that the city confirmed a case as we started the disinfection process,” Dr Nyathi claimed.