Vic Falls workers 'vulnerable' after UK tourist tests positive for coronavirus

17 March 2020 - 06:30 By LENIN NDEBELE
Workers at lodges in Victoria Falls, one of Zimbabwe's top tourist attractions, have been warned to self-isolate after a UK tourist tested positive for the coronavirus.
Workers at lodges in Victoria Falls, one of Zimbabwe's top tourist attractions, have been warned to self-isolate after a UK tourist tested positive for the coronavirus.
Image: Marianne Schwankhart

A British tourist to Zimbabwe tested for the coronavirus in Victoria Falls last week, whose results initially indicated a reaction to malaria medication, was diagnosed positive upon returning home over the weekend.

The tourist, from Windsor, was booked at Ilala Lodge in the resort town. She was there from March 7 to 10.

District medical officer Dr Fungai Musimani initially tested the patient, and provincial medical officer Purgie Chimberengwa told TimesLIVE that it was not the dreaded coronavirus.

After testing positive for Covid-19 upon returning home to the UK, the patient’s agent communicated with Shane White, the marketing director at Wild Horizons, the tour company that hosted the woman.

In a memo copied to all staff members at Wild Horizons, it was advised they must get tested and all company facilities treated.

“She [the woman] complained about feeling unwell and a doctor was called. He agreed she was suffering from a reaction to malaria medication. When [she] got home, she was diagnosed with coronavirus. We have literally just this moment been told. Please can you do all necessary in respect of your staff and cleaning vehicle etc,” states the memo.

Wild Horizons corporate affairs director Barbara Murasirwana told TimesLIVE that the matter has been referred to the ministry of health and childcare. She also communicated with the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe.

The country's minister of health and childcare, Dr Obadiah Moyo, did not respond to calls from TimesLIVE.

Workers from Ilala Lodge said they have been advised to self-quarantine with their families.

“The situation is very tense at work and we are scared. We are still hosting visitors who had been booked through our agents before the travel ban. When they get into the lodge, there is no testing that takes place. We carry their bags at times even without gloves, give them food and clean their rooms. We are just vulnerable and even the company management is panicking,” said one worker.

A worker at the Shearwater Explorers Village lodge said he felt more exposed as he worked at the front office.

Workers earn 80% of their salaries in foreign currency, and the other 20% in local currency. But because of the global ripple effect of the coronavirus, their salaries will be cut by 50%.

“A few days back, the company wrote an e-mail advising us that salaries were going to be slashed by 20% and then today [Monday] morning they circulated another memo announcing a further 50% slash. Bookings lined up for the year have been cancelled. Today we only have nine guests booked in the lodge,” he said.

"We try to sanitise every environment as we have been trained, but we feel that is not sufficient."

Following news of the suspected case, Victoria Falls Primary School on Monday sent a memo to parents suspending all sporting activities and fixtures. School trips have also been suspended. Lessons are expected to continue, albeit without any guarantee.

An estimated one million visitors from all over the world visit Victoria Falls, with a population of 33,360 as of the 2012 census, each year. Recent statistics indicate that the bulk of visitors are from Germany, China, Japan, South Africa and the UK.

Border posts between Zambia and Zimbabwe, like Victoria Falls, are still not screening for the virus. It is the same at the Kazungula border post to Botswana in Kasane, where screening is only done on the Botswana side.

Zimbabwe is yet to officially confirm its first coronavirus case.