Zimbabwe became the latest African country to confirm the existence of the COVID-19 variant B.1.617, first detected in India last year.
Vice-President and Minister of Health and Child Care Constantino Chiwenga confirmed that genomic test results conducted from a localized outbreak in Kwekwe in central Zimbabwe, linked to a traveler from India in April, revealed detection of the more lethal variant.
"The nation is therefore advised that this variant B.1. 617 is now in Zimbabwe," he said on Wednesday.
Chiwenga announced that travelers from India will consequently be required to undergo mandatory quarantine at identified centers at their own cost.
The detection of the variant in Zimbabwe points to a gradual spread of the variant in Africa, as it has already been discovered in Botswana, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Uganda.
Masimba Dean Ndoro, vice-president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, said it was very likely that the pandemic may start to rise in Zimbabwe and much of the continent because people have become complacent about cOVID-19 prevention protocols.
Another public health specialist Grant Murevanhema said a third wave of COVID-19 was looming in Zimbabwe as the country approaches winter unless people become serious about preventive measures.
Alex Gasarira, the World Health Organization representative to Zimbabwe, said the spread of the variants can be stopped in the same manner as the original coronavirus, and that was through keeping safe.
"If everybody wears their mask, observe physical distance, keep their hands washed all the time and avoid gatherings, the variants will not spread, so the most important thing is for us to comply with preventive measures," he said.
Gasarira said African countries were trying their best to get additional vaccines because vaccinating significant numbers of people helped to reduce the risk of the pandemic spreading further.
"Countries such as Zimbabwe have done well in vaccinating over 600 000 people but that number compared to about 10 million, the country aims to vaccinate, means that there are still many numbers of people who are not vaccinated so until such a time that we have enough vaccines to vaccinate the majority of the population we just have to do the preventive measures," he added.
Africa has more than 4.7 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, representing about 2.9 percent of global infections. The WHO reports that at least 49 countries are rolling out COVID-19 vaccines on the continent with over 22 million doses have been administered.