Cyclone Idai Anniversary: Survivors fear Covid-19 pandemic

By Kenneth Matimaire

The anniversary for Cyclone Idai survivors has come at an unusual time.

Survivors in eastern Zimbabwe’s hardest hit district of Chimanimani, anticipated to have been patching up the pieces from new settlements promised by government.

Alas, it appears hundreds of Idai survivors will have to put up in tents for a little longer and brace for a another disaster in the form of coronavirus that has already claimed one person out of seven infected Zimbabweans.

The survivors lamented that the disaster-prone area remains vulnerable.

They argued that most villages recorded a high number of urbanites who migrated to rural communities before the 21-day lockdown started on March 30.

“We are very worried about our well-being and don’t know whether we are still safe or not. Many people came from urban centres, and customarily it is not proper to turn away visiting relatives. And we just hope their coming will not affect us,” said Samuel Mtetwa of Nyanyadzi.

Mtetwa’s remarks came as urbanites travelled to rural areas in numbers via public transport during the weekend before the lockdown became effective.

Social commentators criticized travelers for risking their lives and those of their rural counterparts, that public bus terminuses and mass transportation are hot spots that aid the spread of coronavirus.

“There is no testing happening here. It would have been better if we could be tested at our village health centres, especially our relatives from town, just to ensure that we are all safe and be at peace with ourselves,” said Mtetwa.

The sentiments are widely shared by Cyclone Idai survivors in the eastern border province.

Currently, the Mutare Infectious Disease is the provincial centre for Covid-19 testing. The specimens are further transported to Harare for diagnosis at a time government has hinted on decentralizing testing.

Government further indicated that they will give financial to 1 million to vulnerable citizens for the next four months during lockdown.

While some survivors welcomed the developments, others were skeptical whether the promises will ever materialize.

“We want to believe what our government says but we learnt the hard way after Cyclone Idai. They promised to build houses in safer settlements but are yet to honour that promise. Many are still living in tents since March last year,” said Elizabeth Mabuto of Rusitu village.

Mabuto challenged government to prove itself as Idai survivors cannot afford to face another disaster at a time they are still nursing wounds of their traumatizing ordeal.

“It feels like yesterday when we went through Cyclone Idai. It might be a year ago to others but to us, the memory is still fresh.

“We can’t afford another disaster and government should do everything to protect us. We are not mentally and physically fit to face another disaster. We are still healing,” said Mabuto adding there is need for community testing facilities owing to the high number of visitors.

Investigations indicated that there was a high number of travelers who flocked into the eastern border city of Mutare from Mozambique via the Machipanda/Forbes Border Post from several affected countries across the globe.

1,500 individuals and over 300 freight trucks passed through the border every day before the lockdown, according to statistics provided by both governments of Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Inquiries indicate that 123 travellers have been flagged for Covid-19 surveillance at a time only three people have been tested.

Influx of travellers from affected countries

Statistics gathered indicate that Mutare flagged travellers came from South Africa, Egypt, India, Greece, Finland, Thailand, Dubai, Spain, Canada, China and Syria this month.

The city received information on 123 travellers whose arrival dates were from the 9th to the 30th of March and all are under surveillance. Today (March 31) 16 new travellers were followed up,” reads a statement issued by the City of Mutare.

The city had received a list of 50 new travellers on March 26, almost two weeks after the furthest date of arrival between March 15 and 21.

Another list of 16 individuals who travelled into the city from abroad between March 9 and 15 was received weeks after their dates of travel.

The travellers “are scattered in the city various suburbs,” according to the local authority, which is part of the Provincial Covid-19 Taskforce.

Manicaland provincial medical director Dr Munyaradzi Mukuzunga said a person interacts with an average of 10 people a day and often difficult to do contact tracing of individuals met in public spheres.

Moreover, research by Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University on how the Covid-19 spread from Wuhan city, China indicates that about “85 percent of infected travellers went undetected…but they were still contagious.”

Thousands of people flew out of Wuhan to cities around the world, resulting in the global breakout, the research highlights.

Similar trends were recorded in Italy, where nearly 100,000 people have been infected in less than a month.

Limited testing

Fears have been raised in Zimbabwe where sporadic travel trends were recorded, especially in the eastern border province under limited testing.

Only three people have been tested after the majority did not meet the World Health Organisation “definition criteria” for Covid-19 testing.

“The information circulating on WhatsApp is scary. Right now, anyone who gets a cold quickly becomes a village misfit, especially after many people came from towns,” said Mtetwa.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa acknowledged the need for more testing to avoid infected individuals going undetected.

The lockdown has been put into effect to limit movements of individuals in order to stop the virus from spreading. Infection statistics availed by government has been stagnant at seven people for a week now though social commentators allege the figure could be higher.

Idai survivors further alerted government to be wary of illegal movements along border lines where Mozambicans cross into local farm lands in search for small jobs every day.

The trend is common in border rural settlements such as Chimanimani, Chipinge, Burma Valley, Vumba, Mutasa and Nyanga in the eastern region.