BY MOSES MATENGA
Government yesterday announced tough lockdown regulations that will see the banning of random movement, closure of non-essential business and prohibition of large gatherings including weddings and church services.
The regulations are with effect from Tuesday and will be in force for the next 30 days. The return of the lockdown comes as government has admitted that Covid-19 has overrun the country and overwhelmed health institutions.
The lockdown will also see the reintroduction of a dusk-to-dawn curfew, suspension of intercity travel and other movement deemed unnecessary. Cross-border trading has also been banned as has operation of beerhalls, bars and bottle stores. Supermarkets and other businesses deemed to provide essential service will operate between 8am and 3pm.
The announcement, made by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, came after a crisis meeting in the wake of an upsurge in Covid-19 infections that has seen a rise in the number of deaths in the past few days.
Chiwenga, who is also the Health minister, told journalists last night that the number of Covid-19 deaths and infections had doubled since November, hence the need for strict lockdown measures.
“Fellow Zimbabweans, we have seen a surge in Covid-19 cases which have almost doubled in two months from 8 374 on November 1 to
14 084 to date,” Chiwenga said.
Over 369 people have succumbed to the virus to date.
Government, under the new strict lockdown, has reduced the number of gatherings at funerals to only 30 people while other gatherings including at weddings, churches, bars, bottle stores, gymnasiums and restaurants are banned for 30 days.
Chiwenga said there would be strict enforcement of Covid-19 regulations going forward.
He said only essential services would remain open including hospitals, supermarkets and pharmacies with only essential staff allowed to go to work.
These services, Chiwenga said, would only be opened from 8am to 3pm.
Commercial services, mining, manufacturing and agriculture will operate as before, he said.
“People must stay at home except for buying food and medicines or transporting sick relatives. Other exceptions are specified in the exception order,” the VP and Health minister said.
In education, only examination classes will be allowed to go to school while the rest of the school calendar has been suspended indefinitely.
According to authorities, Zimbabwe health institutions no longer have space to accommodate the increasing number of people being infected by the virus. The number of patients requiring oxygen has also skyrocketed and most health institutions had run out of the life-saving gas last week. Desperate relatives sent appeals on social media begging for information about institutions that could offer oxygen.
The Standard also learnt that two gas companies that the country relies on were struggling to meet the demand for oxygen by health centres, triggering fears the county’s death rate from Covid-19 could spike in the coming days.
Mpilo Central Hospital yesterday revealed that about 206 of its staffers had tested positive for Covid-19 since December 31, including nine doctors, 87 general nurses and 68 student nurses as cases continue to rise across the country.
Information permanent secretary Ndabaningi Mangwana, while conceding failure by the government to cope with the Covid-19 cases at public health institutions, warned Zimbabweans against exposing themselves to the virus.
“We hear United Kingdom beds are overwhelmed by Covid-19. Well, that’s them. They say in South Africa, hospital admission thresholds are now quite high — that’s them,” Mangwana twitted.
“But, let me tell you about our own situation: don’t catch the virus if you can avoid it. We are being overwhelmed and overrun by this virus.
“To put our situation into perspective, you see we recorded nearly 500 positive new cases in two days. If it so happens that these new cases need a hospital bed, then you can see how we can easily run out of beds. And in those two days we have lost nine people and much more in a week.”
Mangwana said of the recorded cases in 48 hours, only one was an imported case from South Africa.
“It’s convenient to believe that the current coronavirus rate of infection is related to the Christmas movement from SA. But the honest truth is that, out of 459 cases recorded in 48 hours, only one is imported from South Africa. The rest are local transmissions. The disease is in our midst.”
Social media was yesterday awash with people saying they had contracted the deadly virus while others were frantically seeking medical assistance for their relatives.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said: “All hospital facilities in Harare dealing in Covid-19 cases are at full capacity. We are in serious trouble.”
Cletos Masiya, secretary-general of the Medical and Dental Private Practioners of Zimbabwe Association, said for the past five days, there had been a drastic increase in the number of people presenting themselves with Covid-19-like symptoms or clear symptoms of Covid-19 based on the clinical criteria used to describe Covid-19.
“There has been an upsurge of cases and these people are no longer presenting themselves with the typical respiratory fever, but with other weird symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting and tiredness, but what we are seeing this time compared to July where we had another peak, there is a rapid progression of symptoms, from a well person to a very sick person within a short period,” Masiya said.
Reacting to Mangwana’s admission that the country was overwhelmed by the virus, Masiya said: “In fact, we are definitely stressed.
“If things remain the same, we are in trouble; there has not been an increase in capacity in both private and public institutions. We are still using the same infrastructure we had in July. There is need to decentralise the way Covid-19 is handled in each district.
“The way we approach Covid-19, we are reactive, we want to hear that Parirenyatwa is overrun, and then we react. I have not seen the leaders coming out in the open with a clear strategy calling on all involved and say let us chart the way forward.
“There could be a leadership gap in how we are approaching this thing.”
Masiya said the figures were likely to peak at the end of the month after the festive travelling.
MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa said he was concerned with the Covid-19 levels and that there was need for immediate action.
“Extremely concerned at the level at which Covid-19 is now killing our citizens. Doctors informed me that all Covid-19 hospital units are full. Citizens are now dying without getting access to hospitalisation. Be vigilant, follow Covid-19 precautions at all times, mask up, wash hands,” Chamisa said.
Health deputy minister John Mangwiro said he was in a meeting and was later not picking calls.
Covid-19 chief coordinator in the office of the President and Cabinet, Agnes Mahomva, also said she was in a meeting.
Meanwhile, police said they had arrested over 2 321 people for violating Covid-19 lockdown regulations on New Year’s Eve. About 200 teenagers were also arrested at a party in Westgate yesterday.
“It appears members of the public are taking the Covid-19 pandemic for granted and are no longer taking precautionary measures,” national police spokesperson Paul Nyathi said.
“We are also aware of an incident of an unsanctioned illegal gathering in Mbare on New Year’s Eve and investigations have been instituted.”
Nyathi said a disc Jockey from Mbare he only identified as DJ Fantan was on the run and over 50 people had been arrested over the gig that attracted thousands of people in the populous suburb.
A local businessman was also arrested in Watsomba for hiring musician Alick Macheso for a “family gig”.