Zimbabwe Fights to Ward Off Delta Variant

04 JUL, 2021 - 00:07 

Leroy Dzenga Senior Reporter for Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

It is apparent that Zimbabwe, like the rest of the region, is battling to contain the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Infections and deaths have been rising, and in the past few days, new cases as high as over 1 000 per day have been recorded.

The last time the country had similar statistics was during the grim phase of the second wave in January.

Local scientists claim the exponential increase in cases in January was driven by the beta variant (first identified in South Africa), which accounted for 80 percent of the new infections.

However, the current explosion in cases is being attributed to the delta variant.

It was first recorded in Muharashtra, a state in India, around October 2020.

Unlike previous variants which got their names from countries in which they would have been first identified, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has opted for a different approach to prevent stigma and xenophobia.

“At the present time, this expert group convened by WHO has recommended using labelled letters of the Greek Alphabet, i.e., alpha, beta, gamma, which will be easier and more practical to discussions by non-scientific audiences,” WHO explained on its website.

The delta variant has since spread across the world and was classified as a “variant of concern” by the global health body on May 11, 2021. A variant of concern is defined by epidemiologists as a strain that is more transmissible and causes disease more than the previous ones.

Investigations

Zimbabwe is, however, still trying to ascertain the variant responsible for the recent spike in cases.

Chief co-ordinator of the National Response to the Covid-19 pandemic Dr Agnes Mahomva said experts are currently conducting genomic sequencing to determine which variant the country is dealing with.

“The National Microbiology Reference Lab (NMRL) is currently sequencing samples from across the country. Mashonaland West is of prime importance due to proximity to Zambia,” said Dr Mahomva.

She said understanding the type and distribution of variants across the country helps inform national response strategies, especially on surveillance, case management and manning ports of entry.

But there are suspicions the delta variant could be driving the latest cases.

In May, a Kwekwe businessman reportedly succumbed to Covid-19 after coming into contact with a relative who had returned from India.

Further tests concluded he had been infected by the delta variant.

In Mashonaland West, which has been reeling from the new wave, authorities believe soaring cases in towns like Karoi and Chirundu can be traced to imported infections from Zambia, where there is a raging outbreak.

The delta variant is understood to be more transmissible.

Dr Perry Wilson from Yale University says it spreads faster than the previously known types.

“Delta is spreading 50 percent faster than alpha, which was 50 percent more contagious than the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 — making the new variant 75 percent more contagious than the original,” Dr Wilson is quoted as saying.

His submissions dovetail with the World Health Organisation’s observation that the latest strain is the fastest spreading among the coronavirus family.

“In a completely unmitigated environment — where no one is vaccinated or wearing masks — it’s estimated that the average person infected with the original coronavirus strain will infect 2,5 other people. In the same environment, delta would spread from one person to maybe 3,5 or four other people,” he added.

However, most vaccines have proved to be effective in dealing with the strain.

Zimbabwe has authorised four vaccines — Sinopharm, Sinovac, Covaxin and Sputnik V — for local use.

All of them have been tested against the delta variant and are considered to be largely efficacious.

Faring better

Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe president Dr Johannes Marisa told The Sunday Mail that the country finds itself in a more precarious position than in January when the second wave struck.

“We broke our own record last week. In January the highest number we reached was 1 305 new cases per day and now we are already above 1 400. However, people are not as serious as they were in January and this is likely to complicate the country’s Covid-19 situation,” he said.

“The delta variant is different from other previous variants in that it has high transmissibility; it is also different in that it is adversely affecting even those of a young age, between 20 and 40 years. So, those who were relatively safer in the past times are within the same risk category as those with co-morbidities and those of an advanced age.”

He encouraged authorities to ramp up testing, contact tracing and awareness.

Mobile testing booths, Dr Marisa added, should be established in high-density suburbs and all other areas of concern.

“I have attended to patients that are fully vaccinated and they are doing better. They are not progressing quickly, their conditions are not complicating quick and the mortality rate is very low among vaccinated patients.

“I urge people to be vaccinated, they should not listen to misinformation against the vaccine, they should protect themselves as early as possible,” he said.

Russian experts who developed the Sputnik V vaccine said its effectiveness against the delta variant is 90 percent.

Sinovac spokesperson Liu Peicheng was last week quoted by Reuters saying the preliminary results based on blood samples from those vaccinated with its shot showed a three-fold reduction in neutralising effect against the delta virus.

Peicheng reportedly said they may be need for a booster shot after the two doses to strengthen antibody reactions against the strain.

Experts in different countries are still doing research on both Sinopharm and Sinovac to ascertain the exact degree of efficacy.

The Government recently tightened lockdown restrictions to blunt the third wave of the pandemic.



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