Before the ink even had the chance to dry on the hastily scribbled pieces of paper we call New Year’s resolutions, Zimbabweans had most of their point-by-point plans and ambitions for 2021 dashed by a rude reminder that unlike our December monies, COVID-19 was still very much with us. Granted the curfew and travel restrictions announced and put into place on the 2nd of January by the Vice President/Health Minister fast-tracked the resolutions of those who had already decided to heed the calls of certain life coaches, self-help authors and religious leaders to distance themselves from “toxic people” (something which even the toxic people themselves should be able to appreciate given that we are in the midst of a pandemic) but it still managed to put a damper on most people’s big plans—unless seeing even more of your home was part of your big plans for the year.

With Zimbabwe having far more active COVID-19 cases than ever before and with vaccination programs still in the far distant future, 2021 appears to be gearing up to be an even worse rehash of 2020. So the question is: should everyone who is still harbouring big plans for this year shelve them or there is still hope? Well, I am not a prophet so I can’t answer that question for you but I can round up some of the COVID-19 news and factoids which are most likely to affect the direction that this year is most likely going to take and you can decide for yourself.

Second waves

In 2020 developed countries bore the full brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic while countries like those in Africa generally lagged in the number of cases. Zimbabwe was one of the countries that were fortunate enough to be able to get the infection rates more or less under control using just its first lockdown. Unfortunately when the government relaxed the country’s lockdown regulations, eased travel restrictions and made the curfew shorter, the citizens relaxed even further with many individuals and organizations openly disregarding social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. Needless to say, that combined with the merriment and mingling which is common during the festive season—not to mention the influx of locals working in hard-hit South Africa—one could say that the second wave of infections was only a matter of time.

It, therefore, pays to remember in your short-term planning i.e. making plans for 2021, that even as Zimbabwe—like many other countries in the world—waits to get its hands on one or more of the currently available vaccines, the same lockdowns which are ruining our planning are still at present the country’s best weapon against the virus. This is important to consider because, as seen in many other parts of the world, the reduction in the number of cases enjoyed during any period after a lockdown is usually very temporary. This oftentimes makes on-and-off lockdowns and travel restrictions necessary and few fledgeling businesses can survive, much less take off, in such an environment which has left even established firms in dire straits.

The vaccines

Discussing the various possibilities of a future made uncertain by a pandemic caused by a new disease wouldn’t be complete without delving into the subject of the progress of development of the medications meant to fight it. According to the World Health Organization, as of December 2021, they were three COVID-19 vaccines whose use has been authorized by certain national regulatory authorities. Of those three only one had the results of its efficacy and safety studies published in a peer-reviewed journal (reviewed by independent experts before publication).

The variants

Recently some mutated variants of the COVID-19 virus have been discovered. These new strains are a huge course for concern because while some are more infectious, others are also deadlier and there are some which are suspected to be resistant to some or several of the current group of vaccines which have been developed or are still in development. A new strain was discovered in South Africa late last year and, likely, it has already made its way into Zimbabwe. The cropping up of new variants of the disease means that in a worst-case scenario, some of the gains achieved through the development of vaccines may be short-lived.

In conclusion

Last year I was under the very mistaken belief that even after a lockdown, people would be cautious and it would take a while for them to return to their normal day to day businesses. I was wrong, it turns out that immediately after any lockdown or travel restrictions are lifted, people are happy to immediately resume their lives. For this reason, any current or prospective business owners can reassure themselves that at least the return of the bustle of activity after the current (or any subsequent) lockdowns will almost be instantaneous—no matter how short-lived it may be before that leads to another lockdown.