HARARE, ZIMBABWE – Public health experts in Zimbabwe say the country’s extension of a lockdown that includes a 12-hour, dusk-to-dawn curfew to thwart a recent swell in COVID19 cases and deaths will not yield much without adequate equipping of the country’s health care system. The coronavirus has infected nearly 33,000 — and two-thirds of its 1,178 deaths are from January alone according to official figures. The lockdown extension comes as the country says it is struggling to detect new highly contagious – and probably more lethal – variants of coronavirus.
Calvin Fambirai, the executive director of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said his organization welcomed the two-week extension of the lockdown and a 12-hour, dusk-to-dawn curfew by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.
“It was going to be illogical to relax the measures, considering the background of increased daily mortality and incidence rates of COVID-19 as compared to the pre-January levels,” said Fambirai. “However, we think that there is need to complement the lockdown with one, expanding testing, case surveillance, and isolation of confirmed cases, secondly, there is need for expansion of health sector capacity to respond to severe disease of COVID-19 in order to minimize mortality, and thirdly there is need for an accelerated approach to nationwide vaccination.”
Announcing the lockdown extension late Friday, acting President Constantino Chiwenga said the government was concerned by recent spikes in infections and coronavirus-related deaths in Zimbabwe.
Official records show that more 52% of the country’s coronavirus infections are from January alone, while the rest are from last year, when the country had its first incident in March. Chiwenga summed-up the situation as “clearly worrisome” in an address on national television.
“We have a likelihood of new strains and variants circulating. These strains are more transmissible and infectious. It is in light of this that the president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Comrade Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, has decided to extend the level 4 national lockdown by another two weeks to the 15th of February 2021,” said Chiwenga. “The president fully appreciates the difficulties which come with this extension. Livelihoods are being disrupted yet we must save lives and our nation.”
Those most affected by the extension of the lockdown are informal traders, who constitute the country’s largest sector of employment. Most of them – like Brian Mutera – say they have yet to receive government assistance promised last March, unlike the situation in other countries worldwide. Consequently, he hangs around these shops selling vegetables despite government calls for him to stay at home.
“During this lockdown everyone is not wanted in town. We do hand-to-mouth living and it’s unfortunate,” said Mutera. “In this Third World we are in Zimbabwe, there is death and life. I am here, I am dicing OK? with death. But I cannot be home. I have two children to look after. I have to come to the shops [to sell vegetables]. In developed world, government[s] are paying [handouts]. The situation of our economy, everybody knows. It’s unfortunate. We just pray to the Lord that we have to get a vaccine or something all over Southern Africa.”
On Friday, Chiwenga — who doubles as Zimbabwe’s health minister — said the country was in the process of acquiring coronavirus vaccine. A health official earlier this week told a parliamentary committee that China and Russia were among countries that had offered to supply Zimbabwe with the vaccine.