BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka
Memories are still fresh of how the Delta variant impacted the country with hundreds of admissions, deaths and negative impact on the economy. Families are still mourning their loved ones, so are the workplaces, communities and churches. The country cannot afford to go through the nightmare of the third wave and its attendant Delta variant. Zambians cannot afford a business-as-usual attitude as the variant is already reported in neighbouring countries, assuming it is not yet in Zambia, given the interactions with Botswana and South Africa, where the variant has been reported. Zambians travel far and wide to destinations such as the UK, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong, where Omicron has been confirmed. The country also receives hundreds of visitors from those destinations. In the past week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued an alert about a heavily mutated COVID variant named Omicron, which has been identified and rapidly labelled as a “variant of concern”. Omicron has no symptoms such as joint pain, weakness, loss of appetite and COVID pneumonia. So wicked is the Omicron variant because it directly affects the lungs, which means window periods are shortened. As a result, the death rate is higher. It takes less time to get to the extreme. So phenomenal is the spread of Omicron, first reported to WHO by South Africa last Wednesday, that cases have also been confirmed in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong. Alarmed by the rising cases, a number of countries around the world have now banned or restricted flights to and from southern Africa in response to the new variant. Omicron, the flagship of the fourth wave, should remind Zambians about the Delta variant during the third wave. There is ample evidence indicating that the guard against COVID has been lowered both at institutional and personal levels. It is now not uncommon to see huge gatherings where the majority of people are not masked. This laxity against the background of the fourth wave is of serious concern. This is worrying also because the country is still far from achieving herd immunity as there are millions of people still sitting on the fence when the country has plenty of vaccines.
Given this situation, it is time to fasten belts by religiously embracing the six golden rules in workplaces and communities. Therefore, Government’s response to the situation to avoid a foreseeable calamity is welcome.
Measures announced by Minister of Health Sylvia Masebo include mandatory masking, no entry in any Government building without a vaccination card (markets are Government buildings under local government) and no entry in bars, nightclubs without proof of vaccination card. Public transport such as buses should ensure passengers are all masked before entering a bus and also buses should not be overloaded. Churches will be congregating for an hour only while bars are to open only for four days (Wednesday to Saturday) for only two hours (18:00-20:00hrs). No journalists will be allowed to cover a function without proof of vaccination.
Aggressive vaccination to commence today and markets as well as malls to be used in order to meet two million people vaccinated by December 31, 2021. No civil servant will be allowed to go to work without proof of vaccination while new measures are to be announced as new information emerges. So, finally, mandatory vaccination is here. This is an unprecedented political will to fight COVID-19. Indeed, people must get vaccinated because it is the only sure way to save lives and reduce the admission rates and in turn reduce the burden on the economy and health care personnel. Every citizen should consider it a responsibility to be vaccinated to defeat COVID. Of course, this will have to happen voluntarily or involuntarily. The author is editorials editor at Zambia Daily Mail.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Lusaka