BY RICHARD MUPONDE/VANESSA GUZHA
GOVERNMENT has confirmed that the deadly Indian COVID-19 variant, B.1.617, has hit the country, raising fears that it could overwhelm the southern African nation’s poorly-resourced healthcare system.
The strain was confirmed after samples taken from a Kwekwe man who died after contact with a niece, who had just returned from India, tested positive to COVID-19.
Robson Kadenhe (76) of Chicago Plots along Gokwe Road, who was a hypertension patient, died last Wednesday after testing positive to the virus.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Health minister, yesterday confirmed the presence of the variant in Zimbabwe.
“Genomic sequencing test was carried out on samples collected from a reported focalised outbreak in Kwekwe which was linked to a traveller from India on the 29th of April 2021, a high risk COVID-19 transmission area,” Chiwenga said.
“The test conducted revealed that the B.1.617 variant predominantly from the Republic of India was detected at the focalised outbreak in Kwekwe.”
He added: “The nation is therefore, advised that this variant B.1.617 is now in Zimbabwe.
“The following travel advisory is, therefore, being issued, people travelling from or transiting from India will be subject to mandatory quarantine at a designated quarantine centre and at their own cost. These travellers will be subjected to a COVID-19 test on arrival despite the status of their travelling certificate.”
Kadenhe’s wife, Mary also tested positive, but their niece Nataly Kadenhe (21) tested negative to the disease.
Nataly, according to a Kwekwe City Council health report released last Friday, had returned from lndia on April 29.
After contact-tracing, nine people have since tested positive to the novel coronavirus.
According to reports, an environmental health technician at Kwekwe City Health, Zvichauya Midzi of Msasa, who had contact with Kadenhe and his niece Nataly, while processing their business licence, tested positive on Wednesday at Cimas Laboratory.
The variant which was first detected in India in February has gone global, spreading to dozens of countries raising fears that the strain will overwhelm healthcare systems and potentially undermine the rollout of vaccines.
The Asian country now accounts for 50% of COVID-19 cases and 30% of deaths from the virus globally, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In Singapore yesterday, government closed all schools saying the B.1.167 variant was hitting children more and the country was preparing to vaccinate them.
Experts believe that the B.1.617 variant is behind a surge in infections seen across India in recent weeks, killing more than 4 000 people a day. The number is set to rise amid reports that the virus was now spreading to rural India.
Travellers coming into the country from other countries are required to present a COVID-19 PCR test done not more than 48 hours from the time of departure.
Zimbabwean health experts have warned the public not to be complacent as the variant might hit the country hard, adding that another hard lockdown was on the horizon.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa said the Indian variant was more virulent and transmissible and would be indiscriminate.
“The Indian strain or mutant is called B.1.607 it has been shown to be 50% more virulent than all the existing COVID-19 strains. It has high transmutability and chances of it affecting the old age are very high. That is what I want to take note of. It can also affect all age groups,” Marisa said.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike echoed the same sentiments saying it was important that Zimbabweans should be vigilant and exercise extreme caution.
He said the situation could be worse because most Zimbabweans were resisting vaccination.
“It is not encouraging at all that only about 600 000 people have been vaccinated since February, these figures are still very low and it will be a tall order for Zimbabwe to move towards achieving herd immunity,” Rusike said.
“We should take a deliberate effort to make sure that there is a trickle-down effect of the vaccination roll-out programme to the rural communities and townships where the majority of the people live.”
He added: “The current national vaccination rollout programme seems like is biased towards urban communities as some rural areas including the resettlement, farming and mining areas have not yet been given the opportunity to be vaccinated, including the information on the benefits of being vaccinated, yet we all know that there are more people in the rural areas than urban centres.”