OVER 140 Zimbabwean returnees have reportedly skipped quarantine, inducing terror in the already restless society.

Quarantine, a concept with a history of efficacy against disease outbreaks, has often been used as the first line of defence in reducing a contagion.

Bacterial and viral outbreaks have historically wreaked havoc across populations. Millions of lives have been lost to deadly pandemics.

Today, Covid-19, also known as coronavirus, is repeating history.

In the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine, quarantine has increasingly become the “cure”.

Across the globe, human populations are religiously following quarantine guidelines, the only hope so far.

However, some returnees are allegedly manipulating quarantine procedures, exposing vulnerable populations to Covid-19.

Current debate on the obtaining restrictive measures has been very subjective. Disruption of socio-economic activities has been over emphasised.

Objectively, ignoring the World Health Organisation prescribed guidelines expose vulnerable populations to coronavirus.

It is no longer business as usual. Covid-19 has created “desperate situations, calling for desperate measures”.

And pursuant to the right to life, many countries have since enacted life-saving statutes, essential in protecting the sanctity of human life.

More so, the right to life supersedes other human rights.

In fact, the health and welfare of populations ought to be viewed in the context of the ravaging pandemic.

The WHO expertly and timely prescribes health guidelines important in fighting any contagion. These include screening, testing, tracing, treatment and quarantine.

Regrettably, returnees in their wisdom, or rather lack of it, are increasingly becoming a novel threat to society.

Zimbabwe has been hounded by a surge of returnees who are reportedly breaching quarantine protocols. At least 148 returnees are alleged to have skipped quarantine.

To date, the Zimbabwe Republic Police has arrested 23 unscreened returnees, with over a hundred unscrupulous returnees potentially infecting the population.

Unfortunately, most returnees are coming from South Africa, the continent’s coronavirus hot spot.

Unscreened returnees are seemingly becoming an emergency of public concern, negligently unleashing “biological terror” to vulnerable populations.

Equally, those who harbour “biological terrorists” are complicit in the crimes against humanity. They, too, must face the full wrath of the law.

Law enforcement agents must be vigilant and ensure that returnees do not manipulate quarantine procedures.

Forthwith, all undesignated points of entry along the borders must be properly manned to prevent illegal entry of returnees.

Intensification of border patrols and protecting vulnerable populations in border communities becomes top priority.

Use of surveillance drones will go a long way in discouraging returnees from using undesignated points of entry.

And corruption, real or perceived, at quarantine centres must be nipped in the bud.

Allegations of law enforcement agents accepting bribes to allow safe passage for returning residents must be thoroughly investigated.

Crucially, police check points on highways must be helpful in detecting unscrupulous returnees.

And mischievous truck drivers, who are aiding the movement of unscreened returnees, must be brought to book.

More importantly, the Ministry of Health and Child Care should devise convenient strategies that expedite screening, testing, treatment and isolation of returnees.

Allegations of insufficient testing kits at quarantine centres must be dealt with promptly.

Dr Agnes Mahomva, the chief co-ordinator of the Covid-19 National Response in the Office of the President and Cabinet, must swiftly address all grey areas.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare plays a very important role of ensuring safety and welfare of returning nationals.

Quarantine centres should not be perceived as “remand prison”, but, essential facilities in curbing the spread of Covid-19.

The rights of returning citizens must be upheld, albeit cognisant of the need to save lives. Multiple options should be on offer to preserve dignity and self esteem.

Nevertheless, quarantine is not negotiable. Restrictions are meant to save lives not individual interests.

With a 94 percent literacy rate, Zimbabwe must progressively tap into the vast knowledge that is currently in quarantine.

Experience is the best teacher. Isolation experiences must inform on how to improve quarantine living standards.

Zimbabweans must decisively play social policing roles. It is imperative to report and expose returnees who breach quarantine procedures.

Importantly, allocating resources for traditional and community institutions will further promote the identification and referral of unscreened returnees.

Village heads, headmen and chiefs must take a leading role in resisting “biological terrorists”.

And with sufficient resources, all recent returnees ought to undergo rigorous vetting to ascertain the correct Covid-19 status.

Actually, the Government cannot win this fight alone. Fighting “biological terrorists” requires all hands on deck.

Non-governmental and faith-based organisations must complement the Government in conducting risk awareness campaigns.

Of note, the number of returnees testing positive to coronavirus has seen Zimbabwe record a surge in cases.

Currently, the Covid-19 local transmission rate has been significantly reducing.

Local transmission refers to cases that emerge within the country, while imported cases come from outside the borders.

Unscreened returnees are patently becoming a novel threat to society. National consensus is necessary in “flushing out” the menace in our midst.

Remarkably, the nation had significantly reduced the Covid-19 burden, with locals keenly accepting prescribed health protocols.

Therefore, all Zimbabweans must be on the lookout for unscreened returnees and report suspects to the nearest police station.

Beware of “biological terrorists”, wear a mask, stay at home, practise social distancing, and continue hand hygiene.

Everisto Mapfidze is a registered general nurse who holds a Bsc Honours in Sociology (UZ). For feedback: mapfidzee@gmail.com