Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 infections spiked on Wednesday, on the same day as the country began restricting entry to all travellers.
The 712 new infections reported by the health ministry were the highest since the 958 declared on August 17 before infections ebbed. The health ministry said 52 people are hospitalised, but there were no deaths.
The infections are set to rise even further in the coming days after President Emmerson Mnangagwa ordered mandatory PCR tests and 10-day quarantine at approved facilities for all arrivals.
Officials at the country’s land borders who are expecting a sharp increase in the number of arrivals ahead of the Christmas holidays questioned whether the country had capacity to implement the measures, warning they would spur illegal migration and “create huge Covid-19 hotspots inland.”
The health ministry blamed the rise in new infections on “outbreaks at learning institutions across the country.” Of the 712 cases, 104 were at schools and colleges.
At least 6,148 tests were conducted across the country, a number likely to increase with the imposition of PCR tests for all visitors for the next 14 days as Zimbabwe assesses the impact of the Omicron variant which was detected by South African scientists last week, sparking world panic and a wave of travel restrictions.
After President Mnangagwa announced the new measures set to start “with immediate effect” on Tuesday, a Statutory Instrument giving legal force to his statement was not gazetted until well after midday on Wednesday – spreading confusion at the ports of entry.
Passengers that arrived by air and road on Wednesday morning were allowed into the country as officials waited for the new law to be published. Some Zimbabweans arriving at Beitbridge, the region’s biggest inland border, were detained for quarantine from the afternoon – but few understood how the scheme would work.
A border official said: “People are supposed to choose their own quarantine facility from an approved list of local lodges and hotels because they are paying.
“Those who cannot afford are to be directed to the social welfare department which will arrange their accommodation – but with schools and colleges still open, there is very limited capacity for cheap, mass accommodation.
“In the end, we will see an increase in illegal crossings into the country and the inevitable crowding at the border will create huge Covid-19 hotspots inland.”
Scores of Zimbabweans who had no money to pay for their quarantine, particularly at Beitbridge, took to social media to complain that they had been detained at the border for several hours late into the night on Wednesday as their accommodation was being arranged at the former Rainbow Hotel nearby.
Zimbabwe has reported 135,337 Covid-19 infections since March 2020, including 4,707 deaths.