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Zimbabwe'S President Emmerson Mnangagwa wears a protective face shield and facemask as he delivers a speech during the burial ceremony of Zimbabwe's agriculture minister Perrance Shiri at the National Heroes Acre on July 31 2020, in Harare. - Perrance Shiri, 65, a retired general who commanded an army unit accused of a notorious massacre in the 1980s, succumbed to coronavirus (COVID-19), the president said on July 30, 2020. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)


Knee-jerk reaction to Covid-19 unhelpful



THE Zimbabwean government’s “monkey see, monkey do” approach to tackling the Covid-19 Omicron variant threat is very unsettling. This rapidly evolving risk cannot be contained through knee-jerk actions that are not grounded in science.

 Government brewed a shocker by introducing senseless testing and quarantine measures this week. Even by its own standards of dramatic incompetence, this was a breathtaking miscalculation. We must give credit where credit is due.

There are certain aspects of the government’s Covid-19 response strategy that have been commendable thus far. The knee-jerk Omicron response is not one of them. According to the new measures, returning residents and foreign travellers are required to undergo a PCR test upon arrival and will be subjected to 10-day quarantine at their own expense.

There is no scientific logic in these sweeping measures. When powerful Western governments rushed to impose a travel ban on southern African countries, level-headed people across the world condemned the blatant fear-mongering, discrimination and borderline racism.

Nobody in the Western world has provided evidence that the Omicron variant originated in South Africa and Botswana. In fact, there is a glut of information showing that the variant had been detected in the Netherlands, Hong Kong and other places before the excellent scientists in South Africa and Botswana definitively deployed their capabilities in service of humanity.

Arbitrary actions — while providing the Western governments with what appears to be a convenient cop out — will actually prove counterproductive in the long run. As experience has shown in the past two years, a global health emergency requires international co-operation, not unhelpful stonewalling.

The unfortunate consequence of arbitrary travel bans is that some countries will now begin questioning the wisdom of transparently reporting the detection of these new variants. When transparency is punished, there is no incentive for openness.

 Since early 2020, one of the main lessons the global community has learnt is that science must lead. The problem, as people in many countries would readily testify, is that the average political leader lacks rational thought and panders to grandstanding, populism and hollow sound bites.

Omicron has been categorised as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation. What the community of nations needs to do is to scientifically study it to see if it is more contagious or causes more severe illness than other variants.

Fear-mongering will only make this important task a whole lot harder. In any event, the variant has since been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Austria, Portugal and Spain.

Is the world going to ban travel from all these nations? There is neither rhyme nor reason. We must take into account other considerations. Diaspora remittances have become the biggest source of forex inflows for Zimbabwe and deserve respect.

This comes on the back of a Covid-19 pandemic that has prevented foreign-based citizens from visiting this country since March 2020. Many in the diaspora would have seen December 2021 as an opportunity to travel home and spend time with loved ones. It is no longer possible. The government could have found better ways of handling the Omicron threat.

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