COVID-19: Fourth minister dies as home deaths soar

The late Joel Biggie Matiza

Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza on Friday became the fourth government minister to die of COVID-19, as official statistics showed nearly half of all people dying from the disease are dying at home.

Friday was a particularly grim day, with other prominent figures – recently retired prisons chief Paradzai Zimondi, erstwhile education minister Aeneas Chigwedere and former lawmaker Christopher Chigumba – also dying from COVID-19-related illness.

Matiza, an architect who was appointed transport minister in 2018, is the fourth minister in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration to fall to COVID-19, a day after foreign affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo and a week after the provincial affairs minister for Manicaland, Ellen Gwaradzimba.

COVID-19 also claimed the life of agriculture minister Perrance Shiri last July.

The health ministry’s January 22 report showed 45 more people had died of COVID-19, bringing total deaths to 962. However, the 476 new cases reported on January 22 mean confirmed infections were at the lowest level since January 2, raising hopes of a slowdown in the spread of the virus as the latest lockdown enters the third week.

Friday’s positivity rate of 12% (from 3829 PCR tests), was the lowest since January 1, with the Zimbabwe Senior Hospitals Association saying this could be down to the impact of the lockdown and curfews announced on January 3 as infections surged.

Worryingly, the data also shows that between 39% and 48% of deaths recorded between January 18 and January occurred away from hospitals, most likely at home. The country has a shortage of hospital beds for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.