Debra Matabvu

GOVERNMENT will today roll out a nationwide community-based Covid-19 testing study, expected to pinpoint coronavirus hotspots, in order to inform the deployment of tailor-made response strategies for specified communities.

This would be done as part of a coterie of measures to respond to a possible second wave of the pandemic.

Police have intensified patrols and enforcement of other measures to respond to the general laxity by citizens in adhering to Covid-19 restrictions, following an increase in coronavirus cases this month.

Individuals in more than 7 000 households will be screened for the virus in all 54 districts under the National Sero-Prevalence Survey for Covid-19, which runs up to December 30.

The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) will test nearly 4 600 individuals in rural households, while the rest of the study samples will be drawn from urban communities.

In addition, the Government has deployed epidemiologists to investigate recent outbreaks of the virus at John Tallach High School, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo and Kwekwe Polytechnic colleges, with a view to tighten the Standard Operating Guidelines in use at learning institutions.

Since March, 224 000 people have been arrested for breaching the restrictions.

NIHR director Professor Nicholas Midzi told The Sunday Mail that only one person would be tested per household.

He said the study will help authorities draw up specialised interventions targeting specific communities to curb the spread of the contagion at the local level.

“The tests will inform the authorities of the extent to which the Covid-19 has spread, including the high and low transmission areas as well coming up with the necessary interventions required for each area,” said Prof Midzi.

“We have already identified the households and only one individual will be tested per each household.

“We will target all age groups starting from two-year-olds.

“Training of health workers is currently underway and next week (this week) we will start testing.

“We will determine the presence of Covid-19 through testing for antibodies, which will show whether an individual would have been infected.

“Further tests will be administered to confirm the initial test.”

In Harare Metropolitan province, 1 250 people will be tested in 50 centres, while 975 individuals in Manicaland province will be screened in 32 rural communities and seven urban areas.

In the Midlands province, 850 people will be tested while 800 tests are set to be administered in Masvingo province.

Over 400 individuals will be tested in Bulawayo Metropolitan province, while Matabeleland North and South will each have 375 tests.

Mashonaland Central will have 625 people screened, while 773 will be tested in Mashonaland East.

In Mashonaland West, 800 people will be tested.

Chief Co-ordinator for the National Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva said a recent Government survey showed that most communities were no longer adhering to standard preventative guidelines.

“We have noticed that people are no longer adhering to the standard guidelines, which include wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and social distancing,” said Dr Mahomva.

“A recent survey showed that most people know about Covid-19. However, we found that most people believe that they only have a 24 percent chance of contracting the disease and this is very disturbing.”

“So the next survey will show us areas where we need to look at and the response areas that need to be strengthened.”

Learning institutions

More than 100 pupils and teachers at John Tallach High School in Matabeleland North province returned positive Covid-19 results in the past week, prompting authorities to dispatch experts to investigate the outbreak.

Six positive cases were recorded at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic in Gwanda and four others were reported at Kwekwe Polytechnic.

Dr Mahomva said Government will consider tightening operating guidelines at learning institutions in order to avert similar outbreaks elsewhere.

“We have dispatched a team to investigate how the learners at John Tallach were infected,” she said.

“This will help us in fine-tuning the Standard Operating Guidelines in schools if need be.

“However, the existing guidelines are enough to protect learners and teachers from the pandemic if properly and constantly implemented.”

Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education spokesperson, Mr Taungana Ndoro said authorities will intensify monitoring schools’ adherence to operational regulations.

“The only report we have received so far is from John Tallach and no other school has reported cases of the pandemic,” said Mr Ndoro.

“We will intensify monitoring the implementation of Standard Operating Guidelines as there are instances where some schools were not fully adhering to the guidelines.”

Presenting the post-Cabinet briefing on Tuesday, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Senator Monica Mutsvangwa said Government had noted a steady rise in Covid-19 cases nationwide.

“New cases for week 45 stood at 294, compared to 109 recorded in week 44,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.

“Cabinet notes, with concern, that there has been an increase in Covid-19 positive cases over the past two weeks.

“To guard against a second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak, Government through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, is strengthening surveillance and health information management in order to ensure an efficient and effective system to counter such an eventuality.”

In a statement, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police were concerned with the widespread breaching of restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“Police have noted with concern that some sections of the public no longer value the wearing of masks, observe social distancing guidelines, sanitisation and public gathering restrictions,” said Asst-Comm Nyathi.

“It is also clear that night clubs, bars, and beer halls and casinos are not allowed to operate under these Covid-19 safety measures.

“Those found operating shebeens or selling and drinking liquor inside bars, night clubs and other premises will be dealt with.”