By Donald Mushove
I thought it irrelevant to define what COVID-19 is, because by now everyone is aware that it is a virus.
But I realised that people are inundated with unmerited misleading social media, internet stories and news bulletins causing panic among the ordinary folk.
It is important for the media to make people learn, and share facts – and not fiction.
Communicating the facts that viruses do not target specific racial or ethnic groups and how COVID-19 actually spreads is primary. This and can help stop reckless behaviour which could endanger people as well as create unnecessary stigmas.
It is also pertinent at this point to say that failure to report a case of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe at this stage is not so special as there are several countries yet to have any cases. About 19 countries worldwide have reported only one case each at the time of writing.
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A family of viruses
Corona viruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illnesses in people, and others, such as canine and feline corona viruses, only infect animals. A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified.
The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.
The COVID-19 virus is suspected to be an animal coronavirus that infect animals which has emerged to infect people and can spread between people.
While theories about the virus being engineered from a laboratory and it being a bioweapon have propped, no tangible evidence which is scientifically merited has been brought forward as yet.
Patients with COVID-19 will be evaluated and cared for differently than patients with common coronavirus diagnosis. On first isolation the virus was named SARS-CoV-2 by South Korean Scientist as it is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, and there is a strong suspicion that it originated from.
On February 11, 2020 the WHO announced an official name for the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan China.
The new name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease. The name of this disease was selected following the WHO best practice for naming of new human infectious diseases.
The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person-to-person. It’s important to note that person-to-person spread can happen on a continuum.
The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 1.83m) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Impact of weather and temperature impact
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food, it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety.
It is not yet known whether weather and temperature impact the spread of COVID-19. Some other viruses, like the common cold and flu, spread more during cold weather months but that does not mean it is impossible to become sick with these viruses during other months.
At this time, it is not known whether the spread of COVID-19 will decrease when weather becomes warmer. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are on-going.
The COVID-19 virus seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community in some affected geographic areas. Countries like China Iran and Italy have already issued Level Three (3) Travel notice, which bans nonessential travel.
The whole scope is to stop the spread of the virus by restricting the movement of those who have the virus; it is not a way of stigmatising those who have the infection.
If this is not well explained reports of patients escaping quarantine like the Thai patient who escaped at Wilkins in Zimbabwe and the South African couple who also escaped from hospital authorities are most likely to increase.
Morbidity & Mortality
The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully known. Reported illnesses have ranged from very mild (including some with no reported symptoms) to severe, including illness resulting in death. While information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illness is mild, a report out of China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases.
Older people and people of all ages with severe chronic medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness.
A CDC Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report that looked at severity of disease among COVID-19 cases in the United States by age group found that 80% of deaths were among adults 65 years and older with the highest percentage of severe outcomes occurring in people 85 years and older.
The immediate risk of being exposed to this virus is still low for most Zimbabweans, but as the outbreak expands, that risk will increase.
Cases of COVID-19 and instances of community spread are being reported in a growing numbers in South Africa a neighbour to the south of Zimbabwe, and Zambia has also announced two cases of the virus.
People in places like South Africa where there is on-going community spread of the virus, with over 100 cases reported are at elevated risk of exposure, depending on the location of the person in relation to infected people.
Healthcare workers caring for patients with and close contacts of persons with COVID-19 are also at elevated risk of exposure.
Travelling from affected countries
Travellers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure, with level of risk dependent on where they travelled. Returning travellers have been the main source of the virus so far in Africa, and if Zimbabwe has to be prepared it must have a robust monitoring system at ports of entry or a serious tight travel protocol for incoming travellers, especially those from hotspots.
So far China, Iran, the United Kingdom, Ireland and any one of the 26 European countries in the Schengen Area have been singled out as hotspots and a tight travel regime is required to monitor people travelling from these destinations not only by Zimbabwe but by any country.
We cannot compromise because once the virus starts spreading in Zimbabwe it is most likely to cause extremely serious problems.
Zimbabwe should deploy multidisciplinary teams headed by forensic microbiologists or forensic biologists to support state health departments in case identification, contact tracing, clinical management, and public communications. This is what countries like USA, China and other jurisdictions have done.
The multidisciplinary teams must meet on a daily basis to strategize and implement strategies that act to prevent the people of Zimbabwe from this pandemic.
Cholera, typhoid, malaria TB and HIV have already claimed one too many people in Zimbabwe and we cannot risk a pandemic of the proportion of COVID-19! Given the current economic crisis and serious drought ravishing the country hundreds of thousands of people will die.
It becomes pertinent to also note that social media petitions which are dependent on lies and the hunger to make cheap political scores should cease forthwith.
Funeral policies won’t cope
We are at the brink of a total world collapse from this pandemic and it is a time to come together for the sack of humanity.
As Zimbabweans we must protect our integrity by making sure we fight this virus within our borders tooth and nail. The reach, the skilled and those who think they have a better solution should come forward and assist government without putting any political connotations on the aid.
We appeal to people like Masiiwa, Chiyangwa, Chamu Chiwanza, Chivhayo, Ginimbi, Magaya, Java, many rich Zimbabwean tycoons who keep a low profile and the general citizenry of our country to contribute towards the fight.
A crowd fund towards COVID-19 mitigation in Zimbabwe will go a long way. Businesses and private players should fight to make sure Zimbabwe stays safe, because if people die it spells bad fortune for their business.
Certainly funeral policy and insurance companies will not cope with claims, and as such they should act now. An outbreak of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe can cause serious damage which may take Zimbabwe decades to recover, given the economic quagmire, the drought and the after effects cyclone Idai.
Donald Mushove is a Forensic Biologist and is contactable on +263 777 479781 or firstname.lastname@example.org he is also available on facebook as Donald Mushove and on twitter as @OGmediaguru