HARARE - Zimbabwe's government has reduced the mandatory quarantine period for possible coronavirus cases by one-half. The government says it lacks the resources to take care of patients in isolation for the two-week period recommended by the World Health Organization.
Health Minister Obediah Moyo said late Tuesday that Zimbabwe does not have the resources to continue following the two-week quarantine period for people entering the country.
Speaking at a news conference streamed on social media, Moyo said the Cabinet has decided to reduce the quarantine period to seven days.
“And if they are found to be positive they will be sent to an isolation center. And if they are found to be negative they will be released. It decongests the facilities,” said Moyo.
That might be good news for returning Zimbabwean citizens, who have been complaining on social media about squalid quarantine centers which reportedly do not have running water.
Health experts see this move as dangerous. Dr. Alex Gasasira, the head of the World Health Organization in Zimbabwe, is urging those released to self-quarantine to minimize the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Zimbabwe has 29 confirmed cases. Four people have died.
“Several of the confirmed cases in Zimbabwe have been amongst people returning to Zimbabwe from countries which had a widespread of COVID-19. So, it is really in the public health recommended good to have a close monitoring of anybody who is returning to Zimbabwe at this time from such countries. So, this monitoring or quarantine could be voluntary or mandatory,” he said.
Zimbabwe had initially put the quarantine period at 21 days, even longer than the WHO’s recommendation.
Gasasira explains the importance of keeping possible coronavirus patients isolated while doctors watch them for signs of the infection.
“The 14-day is the average time – incubation period -- between the time maybe infected and the time he or she develops symptoms. So, if you spend more than 14 days without developing any symptoms. the likelihood is that you are not likely to be infected,” he said.
The cash-strapped government says it has so far spent about 125,000 U.S. dollars on food and basic needs of 950 returning residents in COVID-19 quarantine centers. The cost of accommodation is not included in that figure, officials said Wednesday.