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New Covid-19 variant: Tight screening at borders

Border testing and movement controls in place for many months are being tightly enforced for travellers crossing into Zimbabwe, especially on the southern and western borders, in the wake of the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant in South Africa and Botswana.

Officially designated Omicron, the fifth “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation, it has already seen a bloc of Southern African countries being walled off by most of the world with direct flights banned and those flying in from these countries forced to undergo compulsory quarantine.

Apart from the US, from today, and the European Union from late last week, Britain, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, India and other countries around the world have now announced travel bans or restrictive measures against travellers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola and Botswana following the detection of the Omicron variant by South African scientists.

Zambia, an enclave sticking into this group of nine countries, has yet to be included while some countries have extended the ban to Seychelles, where almost the entire adult population has been vaccinated.

Cases of Omicron are now appearing in other parts of the world as countries test for the variant.

Health authorities in Matabeleland South said the tight screening of travellers entering or leaving the country through Plumtree and Beitbridge border posts, in place for many months, was being adhered to.

Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director, Dr Rudo Chikodzore, who has these two busiest border posts in her province, said her staff was on high alert for the new variant.

“We have boosted our testing capacity for Covid-19 at the borders where there is a relatively high volume of transit traffic. We need to understand the impact of the condition in terms of contraction and fatality levels,” she said.

Besides screening for signs and symptoms, visitors or returning residents were expected to produce a PCR Covid-19 clearance certificate valid for under 48 hours.

Wheel baths, foot baths, hand sanitisers and handwashing basins have been installed at all entry points to buildings around the border posts.

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