GOVERNMENT has directed frontline workers and citizens with chronic diseases to get COVID-19 booster shots with immediate effect to boost their immunity against the newly detected Omicron variant.

Scientists have said booster shots raise antibody levels, strengthen the body’s defences against infection, and may help offset whatever advantages Omicron is said to have.

As of Thursday, 3 829 636 people had received their first COVID-9 jabs, while 2 851 625 were fully vaccinated.

The elderly are part of the prioritised groups to get the third dose.

“Booster dose for frontline workers, those with chronic diseases and the elderly to commence with immediate effect,” Health ministry acting secretary Robert Mudyiradima said yesterday.

Mudyiradima was announcing new measures to control the spread of the virus.

Under the new measures, government has revised regulations on mandatory quarantine, which will see returning residents who were outside the country for less than 14 days quarantining at home.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday announced that all returning residents and foreigners entering the country were to undergo mandatory 10-day quarantine at their own cost at government-designated centres.

Mudyiradima said diplomats, VIPs and VVIPs visiting the country on official government business would be handled through diplomatic channels.

He said all returning residents and visitors would be ordered to conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, while those who were outside the country for more than 10 days were subject to quarantine at government-designated quarantine centres.

“Those who are found to be PCR positive or have signs and symptoms will be isolated,” Mudyiradima said in a statement.

“Returning residents and visitors who have been outside the country for more than 14 days found to be PCR negative will be subjected to mandatory 10-day quarantine at designated facilities at their own cost, while those that have been outside the country for a period less than 14 days may be allowed to self-quarantine at their respective homes.

“However, quarantine will be granted prior to inspection and approval of the facilities.”

This came as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has partnered the Health ministry to strengthen COVID-19 monitoring mechanisms ahead of the festive season following an outbreak of the new COVID-19 variant.

This was after Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga revealed that several COVID-19 cases recorded at Masvingo Teachers College were linked to the new variant, raising fears of a hard lockdown.

Matabeleland South province was last year viewed as the epicentre of COVID-19 owing to its proximity to South Africa, which has registered the highest number of confirmed cases in the continent. The new variant was also detected in the neighbouring country and Botswana.

Chiwenga yesterday said Zimbabwe had been hit by a fourth wave following revelations that confirmed cases at Masvingo Teachers College were linked to the new variant.

“Individuals are not paying attention to the COVID-19 pandemic regulations. With the recent spike in cases in the first week of December, it shows we have been hit by the fourth wave,” Chiwenga said on the sidelines of a clean-up event in Masvingo.

“In fact, we finished genomic sequencing of the new infections and as I speak, in Masvingo, we have established that the new Omicron variant is here from the tests done at cases recorded at Masvingo Teachers College. So let us all be aware. We are heading towards the festive holidays and we should be enjoying, not mourning.”

Over 100 students at Masvingo Teachers College have tested positive to COVID-19, disrupting lectures at the government-run tertiary institution.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe College of Public Health Physicians (ZCPHC) has urged Zimbabweans not to let the guard down on adhering to COVID-19 protocols regardless of the type of variant in circulation.

“Regardless of the type of variant that is circulating, evidence both globally and locally demonstrates that the COVID-19 prevention measures remain largely the same. ZCPHP advises the public to double up physical distancing, masking, and hand hygiene,” the health experts said.

In Bulawayo, Provincial Affairs minister Judith Ncube said: “Let’s allow the church to take the lead in the vaccination campaign because lives are at risk. The church-led inter-faith campaign comes at a critical juncture and time. The church constitutes the largest sector which will close up the gap.”

Ncube made the remarks during a COVID-10 interdenominational nationwide campaign launch at the Methodist church in Makokoba, Bulawayo.

According to the situational reports from the Health ministry, Zimbabwe on Thursday recorded 1 042 new cases, a rise from 712 recorded on Wednesday.

Statistics also show that on Thursday, the seven day rolling average of new cases rose to 372 from 227 recorded the previous day.