COVID-19: Health Minister speaks on returnees after shock surge in cases

Government will focus its testing strategy on returning citizens after the number of COVID-19 cases in the country more than doubled to 132.

All but one of 76 new cases were detected from samples taken from Zimbabweans in mandatory quarantine facilities, Health Minister Obadiah Moyo told reporters on Wednesday.

The latest numbers will sharpen public focus on Zimbabwe’s quarantine facilities, which critics say have been handled poorly.

“I can confirm that the cases who have tested positive are all from the quarantine areas, except for one, who is from Harare. They have been separated from the rest of the members who are in quarantine,” said Moyo.

He added: “I want to point out that we are making sure that we continuously test all these returnees who are in the quarantine areas. It’s our number one priority at this stage to make sure that we process them. Those who are negative are allowed to go and finish the balance of their quarantine period at home, and those who test positive are taken to isolation centres for assessment and further management.

“We are lucky, in a way, that this is not as part of local transmission. We are guaranteed that these are people coming from outside, and we have to concentrate on making sure that our local general population remains clean, while we concentrate on cases of people who are coming through our borders. It has always been through our borders, and local transmission as secondary.”

Moyo said the release of the new batch of positive results had been delayed by the need to verify them.

“We had to make sure that these results were correct and therefore we had to subject them to further quality assurance so that when we say it’s positive, it’s positive. We had what you call inter-lab comparability, which means that samples were taken from one lab and brought to Harare to another lab, the National Reference Lab, which is our major quality assurance lab, and they tested the same as with the other labs,” said Moyo.

“There was a resampling exercise to make sure that the pre-analytical phase had been carried out properly. We also checked to see whether there was any contamination in the testing process. So we had what you call environmental sampling, which means swabbing of the labs where the testing was carried out to see if there was any contamination, and there was no contamination.”

Quarantine in focus

The surge in confirmed infections among quarantined citizens will draw more scrutiny of Zimbabwe’s quarantine facilities.

Zimbabwe, like much of the region, shut its borders in March, but has allowed citizens and legal residents to return, on condition that they are quarantined for 21 days.

“The jump by 76 is for real. We can’t refuse Zimbabweans who want to come back home,” Moyo said.

While in quarantine, people are supposed to be tested three times; on arrival, on day eight, and on day 21. However, government has been sharply criticised for poor management of some of the quarantine facilities. Testing there has been slow, with results being delayed, while many of the facilities are crowded and lack basic amenities.

Zimbabwe has been failing to meet its daily testing target of 1000, hit by a shortage of reagents, the chemicals used in COVID-19 tests. The country is also short of swabs and transport media, the special solutions which are used to preserve a specimen from the time of collection to the time it arrives at a lab.

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