BULAWAYO – The head of Mpilo Central Hospital, Zimbabwe’s second largest referral medical facility, on Friday warned of an impending “catastrophe” after three patients and a nurse tested positive for the coronavirus.
Dr Solwayo Ngwenya, Mpilo’s acting CEO and clinical director, said they had been forced to send doctors and nurses to self-isolate at home in the dozens, as he warned that the hospital could be “crippled”.
The nurse, who exhibited no symptoms, is self-isolating at home in Cowdray Park suburb. The three patients are from Pumula South, Magwegwe and a third is from Insiza district in Matabeleland South.
“These patients came in as normal complaining of malarial symptoms, one of them was proven to have malaria and then we later found out that they had coronavirus,” Ngwenya said.
Mpilo Hospital was not designated to admit coronavirus patients, but the hospital is now cordoning off a ward to deal with new cases because the isolation facilities at Thorngrove and Ekusileni are still undergoing renovations, Ngwenya said.
The discovery of the cases had created an administrative nightmare, as health workers race to find people who came into contact with the four.
Zimbabwe’s coronavirus cases reached 149 on Thursday, according to the ministry of health. The figures more than doubled on Wednesday from 56 to 132, jolting officials who had previously announced a daily high of five cases since the disease landed in the country on March 20.
Ngwenya added: “There’s a lot of contract tracing to be done and it’s going to be a mammoth task. We have already sent a lot of nurses home, in the tens. So today we are continuing to screen, including doctors as well. They will be tested first and sent home for at least 14 days. There will be another test before they can rejoin.
“This is going to cripple our services because we’re now quarantining our nurses and doctors. It’s a huge blow to the service delivery when we have to mothball a lot of members of staff.
“These are the painful effects of coronavirus when it starts spreading rapidly and exponentially, you’ll get a lot of people infected. They have family members at home and some have travelled on public transport for the past week or so, potentially infecting hundreds and hundreds of people.”
Ngwenya said he had driven through the Bulawayo town centre early Friday and found people already queuing at banks, and other financial service providers. There was a visible failure to observe the lockdown imposed since March 30 in a bid to curb the spread of the respiratory illness which causes the disease, Covid-19, he observed.
Ngwenya warned: “My worry about the coronavirus remains and each day is reinforced. If coronavirus is not handled properly, especially here in Southern Africa with this encroaching winter, I can see quite a terrible catastrophe happening. A lot of people will be infected, and a lot of people will die.
“My clarion call to people is that the coronavirus is here and is rapidly spreading. It usually appears to be quiet, and then rapidly spreads and starts killing people. People must stay at home.
“Winter is settling and people are facing a terrible, terrible danger. There are more positive cases coming out, not just these four. More people are going to be positive soon. This virus is not a joke and it will never be a joke; it kills, it has killed in other countries and I don’t see how Zimbabweans are going to escape this monster.”
The Zimbabwe government has made the wearing of masks mandatory, and officials have also emphasised social distancing as part of measures to slow the spread of the disease, which so far has no cure.
Health experts fear that a major outbreak could soon overwhelm Zimbabwe’s creaking health facilities which are manned by poorly equipped and underpaid staff.
Ngwenya said their major concern was a lack of personal protective equipment for workers. Nursing and doctors’ unions were in discussions on Friday on a way forward for exposed workers, which could result in a work boycott.