By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - Zambia remains on high alert for possible cases of COVID 19 coronavirus, a respiratory disease which has affected over 20 countries amid the International Monetary Fund estimating drastic drop in global international trade.
Statistics indicate a staggering 1,874 have died in China, 73,500 infected and over 69,000 infected worldwide since the outbreak last December, bringing the death toll from COVID-19 to more than double of the 2003 SARS epidemic recorded 17 years ago.
Africa has not recorded any confirmed cases to date. This is despite the WHO placing 13 countries, Zambia included among the top-risk African states because of their direct link and volume of travel to and from China.
A spokesperson from the ministry of health said the heightened surveillance at various entry points in collaboration with various partners has help in keeping abreast with any possible contraction of the disease, whose symptoms are detected between 2 to 14 days.
“Government has heightened surveillance at points of entry and would continue to monitor the situation as it progresses in affected countries. Government is working with its partners to enhance the country’s preparedness to handle any coronavirus case, should it arise.
“Health workers at the point of entry have been oriented on how to detect and handle the Coronavirus. All the people coming from the affected countries are being screened with a thermal scanner, which was used in detecting the Ebola virus because even in Coronavirus there is fever.
Government has secured a place where suspected Coronavirus patients will be quarantined.
The move has been taken as a way of preparing in an event that the virus is detected in Zambia.
And there are plans underway to evaluate over 4,000 Zambians studying in China following the outbreak, though subject to expert advice and also based on the World Health Organisation Status reports on the matter.
To help students in China various measures are in place, including procuring and distribution of masks, food and other supplies awaiting the next course of action, the Southern Times has learnt.
Zambia’s health authorities are constantly engaging key partners, Centre for Disease Control and the Zambian Embassy in China to ensure safety of ordinary Zambians and students, as well as the Chinese in Zambia.
Government is also in touch with various communities to sensitise and creating of isolation facilities and pre-positioning of adequate supplies and personnel under the guidance of a high level inter-sectoral committee of permanent secretaries chaired by the Secretary to Cabinet.
Meanwhile the Breton Woods institution-International Monetary Fund is wary of the effects of the zoonic disease and fears could hamper increased global economic growth this year, according to the IMF head, Kristalina Georgieva, though predicts a sharp and rapid economic rebound likely to follow.
"There may be a cut that we are still hoping would be in the 0.1-0.2 percentage space," the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, she said Tuesday at the Global Women's Forum in Dubai. The full impact of the spreading disease that has already killed more than 1,600 people would depend on how quickly it was contained.
"I advise everybody not to jump to premature conclusions. There is still a great deal of uncertainty. We operate with scenarios, not yet with projections, ask me in 10 days," she added.
In its January update to the World Economic Outlook, the IMF lowered global economic growth forecast in 2020 by a 0.1 percentage point to 3.3 percent.
This follows a 2.9 percent growth the previous year, the lowest in a decade. Georgieva said it was "too early" to assess the full impact of the epidemic but acknowledged that it had already affected sectors such as tourism and transportation.
"It is too early to say because we don't yet quite know what is the nature of this virus. We don't know how quickly China will be able to contain it. We don't know whether it will spread to the rest of the world," she said.
If the disease is "contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and a very rapid rebound", in what is known as the V-shaped impact, she said.
Compared to the impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002, she said China's economy then made up just 8.0 percent of global economy. Now, that figure is 19 percent.
While Chinese ambassador to Zambia Li Jien has asked the world not to stigmatise the country and sustain trade cooperation amid the increased spread of the disease, WHO which likens the disease to Bird Flu or SARS, urges the world to continue with research and find a remedy.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describing the virus a “public health emergency of international concern”, says the outbreak sets the tone for the health body to have power to set temporary recommendations to coordinate a global health response with its 196 member countries, including the United States.
It however says it is too early to declare the virus global emergency. One of the criteria used to determine whether it’s an international threat is whether the disease spreads locally once it arrives in new parts of the world.
".....and that’s a nuanced and important distinction to make,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies programme, said.