HARARE – The broke Zimbabwe government has freed 34 returning residents who were being held at a mandatory coronavirus quarantine facility in Darwendale, 60km west of Harare.
Zimbabwe set a mandatory 21-day quarantine for returning residents in a bid to contain the spread of the virus, but ministers admit the country cannot afford to accommodate and feed thousands of returnees for long periods.
In a statement Sunday, information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said they discharged 34 returning residents from the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Administration and Management (ZIPAM) isolation centre on Saturday. Only seven had completed 21 days in quarantine, while 27 returnees had been quarantined for 14 days.
“These 27 will complete their quarantine in self- isolation at their homes and will be followed up by health officers in their respective provinces,” Mutsvangwa said.
the minister said returnees will now have to stay for only eight days in quarantine, and complete the remaining 13 days in isolation at their homes. The returnees will be tested for the virus when they first arrive in the country, and again after seven days before they are discharged.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has no specific recommendations for countries to quarantine returning residents, but many nations use the virus’ 14-day incubation period as a measure of how long to detain people from high risk areas before they are freed.
The WHO’s guidelines are specific to people who have come into contact with coronavirus patients, and they state: “WHO recommends that contacts of patients with laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 be quarantined for 14 days from the last time they were exposed to the patient.”
The guidelines say those in quarantine must be able to communicate with family members who are outside the quarantine facility; if possible, have access to the internet, news, and entertainment as well as psychosocial support.
“Regardless of the setting, an assessment must ensure that the appropriate conditions for safe and effective quarantine are being met,” the WHO says.
Zimbabweans being held in quarantine facilities in Plumtree, Harare, Mutare and Victoria Falls have complained that the government set them up in poor facilities with no running water and sometimes even blankets.
Health minister Obadiah Moyo admitted last week that they were struggling to look after the returnees, a situation which would only get worse when Zimbabwe receives about 3,000 returning residents who have asked to leave South Africa which, like Zimbabwe, imposed a 35-day lockdown.
Zimbabwe has reported 31 coronavirus cases, including four deaths.