BY SILAS NKALA/ NIZBERT MOYO
Bulawayo residents and civic groups have warned that overcrowding in buses as well as queues for food and fuel will expose people to the coronavirus.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week cancelled national Independence Day celebrations slated for the city and postponed the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) scheduled for next month to deal with the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19.
Mnangagwa also ordered schools, colleges and universities to close on Tuesday.
However, hundreds of people in Bulawayo are still being seen queuing at Zupco pick-up points.
The buses, which charge cheaper fares, are susbsidised by the government and can carry up to 100 passengers at any given time.
Effie Ncube, the advocacy and campaign manager for the National Consumer Rights Association, said the risk of people contracting Covid 19 in the city was still high despite cancellation of ZITF and other huge public gatherings.
“The cancellations, though welcome, are inadequate to address the potential threats,” Ncube said.
“The sad news is that given the state of our economy, some gatherings are unavoidable for the poorest of the poor.
“The long queues on a daily basis for transport and basic commodities like mealie meal are high-risk areas.
“People won’t avoid queuing for these.
“They face the dilemma of going into such queues or dying of hunger.
“The country should therefore look into a comprehensive and holistic set of tools to mitigate the risk in these areas too through accurate information dissemination.
“Unfortunately, what will exacerbate the risk is government’s pathological attempt to hide the state of the situation in the country by presenting a false picture of good news everywhere.”
Paul Makiwa, Zimbabwe Passengers Association secretary-general, said the ban on public gatherings should have taken into account the large number of people that use public transport.
“We have passenger planes which will be carrying more than 100 people.
“Besides planes, we have passenger trains which are overloaded and carry more than 500 passengers per trip. This is just a tip of the iceberg,” Makiwa said.
“This means the authorities should take stern measures to control the coronavirus in these transport modes.
“Buses are overloaded with more than 100 passengers per trip.
“We also have big trucks ferrying people which means we have a high rate of spreading the virus.
“Therefore, the government must take stern measures to control or prevent these calamities before they catch the public.”
Former Bulawayo deputy mayor Amen Mpofu said under the prevailing economic conditions, it would be difficult to enforce some of the measures announced by government.
“How do you control funerals? The best way out is to create awareness centres and spraying centres like visiting hospitals,” he said.
“Hospital staff must be given protective clothing as they are the ones dealing with the public.”
Zapu spokesperson Iphithule Maphosa said overcrowding in Zupco buses was a cause for concern.
“We suggest that buses only carry seated passengers, have adequate ventilation and also shorten travel time from point to point,” Maphosa said.
“Hand sanitising may also be introduced in the buses upon boarding.”
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association chairperson Ambrose Sibindi said residents also needed to take precautionary measures by avoiding boarding overloaded buses.
Zupco CEO Everisto Madangwa said the company was promoting awareness on coronavirus and good hygiene.