No More Mandatory Mask Wearing, As Zambia Records Decline In COVID-19 Cases.

By Kelvin Mbewe ,Lusaka, Zambia

Minister of Health Sylvia Masebo

GOVERNMENT has lifted the restrictions on mandatory mask wearing, public gatherings, physical distancing. 

However government says those wishing to continue wearing masks for health or other personnel reasons may continue.

This is according to a statement by Minister of Health Sylvia Masebo who has added that government strongly encourages wearing of masks in high risk places such as hospitals and clinics because these will always continue being high risk areas for communicable disease transmission.

Ms Masebo says the bans have been necessitated by the reduction in the number of Covid 19 cases, hospitalization and related deaths.

“Zambia has experienced four distinct waves of COVID-19 cases Since March 2020. These waves have been characterised by a rapid increase in cases and mortalities,”she said.

She said the highest number of cases during the first wave were recorded in July-August 2020 with the positivity rate being 25.4%. 

“By February 2021, a second wave occurred with a weekly test positivity of 15.3%. Then a deadly third wave followed with the highest numbers recorded in July 2021 and a positivity rate of 26%. This wave was the worst with regards to numbers of COVID-19 related cases, hospitalisation, severity of disease and deaths. It was attributed to the Delta variant,”she said.

Ms Masebo said during the third wave health facilities were overwhelmed as we had limited bed spaces, limited health care workers and oxygen was in short supply. 

“It was at this time when restrictions were at their highest. Our gallant healthcare workers had to take shifts spending up to six months in the COVID hospitals. These hospitals were turned into both residences for health care workers working in COVID centres as well as places of work. This was due to the fear of spreading the disease to their families, loved ones and the community at large,”she said.

She said it was unfortunate that health workers where also lost during the third wave of the pandering.

The human coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first reported in Wuhan, China, in 2019, and subsequently spread globally to become the fifth documented pandemic since the 1918 flu pandemic. 

As of today, nearly 3 years after COVID-19 was first identified, there has been more than 600 million confirmed cases and over 6.5 million lives lost to the disease globally.

Zambia has not been spared. 

The first two cases were reported in individuals who had just returned from travelling abroad on 18th March 2020. 

Since then the country has recorded upto 333,150 confirmed cases out of 3,710,130 tests conducted.

 4,017 people have died of Covid 19.

“of these deaths 2,869 were deemed COVID-19 deaths while 1,148 may have been caused by other conditions in the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Through this scourge, the government of Zambia made frantic efforts to mitigate against the disease following international recommendations. We introduced screening and testing at ports of entry in the country, at health facilities and also mass testing within the communities at the height of the epidemic. We invoked public health statutes that mandated wearing of masks in the public, and closed off most activities at the height of the epidemic,”She said.

In December, 2021 the country was hit with the fourth COVID-19 wave, which was largely driven by the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. 

The highest number of cases was recorded in January 2022 when the positivity rate rose to 32.3%. 

“While this positivity is the highest so far, the rate of severe cases, admissions and deaths did not exceed those observed in both the second and third waves. Zambia has done well in its response to the COVID-19 through an aggressive multisectoral strategy. Continuous high political will and support from partners has resulted in the mobilisation of significant resources to support the 7-pronged strategy. This strategy focused around logistics, human resource, surveillance, case management, laboratory capacity, risk communication, infection prevention and vaccination,”She said.

According to Ms Masebo, Zambia first introduced vaccinations against COVID-19 in April of 2021. 

During that time the country prioritized sections of its  population to benefit from the vaccines due to shortage of supply globally. 

The country prioritized with vaccinating healthcare workers, elderly persons and those with conditions such as hypertension or high blood pressure, diabetes or sugar disease and other underlying conditions. 

“These conditions would put one with COVID-19 at higher risk of dying from the disease. We faced many challenges coping with the case load of patients while trying to vaccinate. The process was complicated further by social media myths and misconceptions that spread fears in our communities to deter people from accepting the vaccines. By October 2021, six months after vaccinations had begun, only 3.3% of the eligible population had been vaccinated. In recognition of the difficulties with this process, His Excellency the president of the republic Mr Hakainde Hichilema decided to relaunch the vaccination drive in order to boost our efforts. He called upon political, civic, traditional, religious and bussiness leaders to lead in the vaccination drive,” she said.

Ms Masebo says to date, Zambia has fully vaccinated 5,785,436 citizens translating to 54% coverage nationally. 

“I must mention that several districts in our country have actually attained over the mark of 70% fully vaccinated coverage. These districts have demonstrated quality leadership at all levels of our society. We are grateful for their great leadership and commitment.

Indeed, we have faced a challenging time at both individual and country level and recognise the socio-economic disruption that accompanied the measures we employed to respond to the pandemic. The restrictions that were mounted although seemingly tough were necessitated by the prevailing burden of disease and threat of escalation if left uncontrolled. We have been gradually easing these restrictions guided by science and epidemiological evidence,”she said.

She said positively remains at 5percent and that testing for Covid 19 will now be restricted to those present with symptoms of the virus and those with travel intentions.

The country now has 336 active cases.

“Notably in the last 24 hours, there were no cases requiring admission and there were no COVID-related deaths. On the other hand, we discharged 10 patients, all from home-based management; there were no facility discharges. The number of active cases country-wide remains encouragingly low, with only 336 active cases currently countrywide, of whom 9 (3%) are currently admitted with four on oxygen and two classified as being in critical condition,” She said.

 

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