President Emmerson Mnangagwa should further extend the national lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 as evidence on the ground suggests that the country is still far from winning the war against the pandemic, Bulawayo residents have said.
Zimbabwe has so far recorded 40 cases including four deaths and five recoveries of the deadly disease, which has also claimed thousands of lives across the globe.
The country on March 30 entered into a 21-day national lockdown, which was extended by a further 14 days on April 19 to May 3 as part of measures to combat the spread of the disease.
With extended lockdown expiring in two days’ time residents of Zimbabwe’s second largest city, which has 12 cases of the disease said they felt it was not yet time to lift the lockdown.
“The lockdown should be extended because the people who have been tested so far are about 8, 000 and due to this figure it is not mathematically easy to determine whether or not as a country we are safe from this Coronavirus,” said Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association executive chairman Ambrose Sibindi.
He said lifting the lockdown while isolation centres such as Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital and Ekusileni were still under renovation could put many lives in danger in the event of a massive outbreak.
Sibindi however said under the extended lockdown companies should be allowed to resume operations but not at full capacity and under strict regulations.
“All employees must have adequate (personal protective equipment (PPE) and if not, such companies should remain closed until they fulfil that requirement,” said Sibindi.
“Trade unions should be given passes to visit companies to ascertain the safety of employees in terms of PPE.”
As part of proposed conditions under the further extended lockdown, Sibindi suggested that buses plying rural-urban routes should be allowed to operate twice a week while observing social distance rules.
He said schools, churches and borders should remain closed, adding lockdown conditions should be reviewed on a fortnight basis.
For Terrence Khumalo, while the lockdown should be extended workers should be allowed to return to work while government keeps monitoring the situation.
“However, schools should not be opened as yet,” said Khumalo.
“The country has not enough resources therefore extreme caution should be exercised. People should not be denied passes into the CBD on occasional basis.”
Hamilton Mzizi said: “The lockdown should be extended because the level of negligence in our communities is disturbing. Not much literacy campaigns have been properly carried out; the majority of people learn from social media.”
He also said churches schools and borders should remain shut.
“Borders are a gateway for the virus to wipe out our population,” said Mzizi.
“If people are smuggling items during lockdown imagine what will happen when borders are officially opened. The virus started in China but their hard policies have saved more lives; their death toll has astronomically decreased. Let’s stick to the current settings stay home and create a cushion where citizens are granted food relief programmes and encourage NGOs to pitch in too so everyone is safe and fed.”
Methuseli Moyo, a social commentator, said there was no need for Zimbabwe to rush in lifting the lockdown.
“At this stage, in my view, we need a limited return to activity while the situation is monitored further,” said Moyo.
“Key sectors of the economy like mining, farming, manufacturing and retailing must be allowed to resume full operations, but under strict conditions. There is need to balance national survival and health and safety.”
He said mass gatherings should remain restricted for the safety of citizens.
“Opening up of borders will at this stage, in my view, lead to quickening of the movement of the virus across borders,” warned Moyo.
“Only essential cross border business must be allowed.”
He added that an ideal extended lockdown would be a targeted one, which relaxes conditions sector by sector and stage by stage.
“The challenge is that the majority of our people are in the informal economy or small scale enterprises, where human traffic is high,” he added.
Thomas Sithole, another social commentator, said it was too early for Zimbabwe to lift the lockdown.
“We are doing so badly in terms of testing and this speaks to lack of capacity,” said Sithole.
“That’s a public health crisis that needs to be contained but unfortunately the government seems incapable of doing so. Given this background the lockdown needs to be extended until the country has flattened the curve.”
He said the government needed to urgently deal with the current shortages of basic commodities like mealie meal.
“We have seen that it is impossible for people to observe measures like self-isolation when they are spending weeks queuing for mealie-meal,” he said.
“There is need for government to provide basic goods to the vulnerable who depend on vending/informal trading for their daily survival so that they are not pushed by hunger to violate strict public health/COVID-19 and lockdown measures meant to address the spread of the virus.”
However, Muzwanele Ncube, said the lockdown should be lifted adding it was important for people to learn to live within the confines of the new normal of social distancing and frequent hands sanitisation among other requirements.
He called for the reopening of banks to enable citizens to access their cash.
“People still have their finances tied up in their accounts and this has posed a dire challenge of access to food amongst urban families due to failure to access cash,” said Ncube.
“There should also be access to the CBD where you can conveniently get a variety of foodstuffs especially when shopping even with regards to pharmacies. We need to consider that COVID-19 is not the only health condition affecting the society but there are some of us who are living with conditions that require access to certain pharmaceutical products.”
He said public gatherings should be allowed with precautionary measures being adhered to adding essential industries should also be allowed to operate with provision of PPEs being prioritised.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Itai Rusike said the lifting of the lockdown should be informed by the World Health Organization guidelines such as the provision of PPE and the capacity to test.
“Unfortunately there is still a huge gap in the provision of PPE as most health workers do not have adequate protection,” he lamented.
“The country has also not tested enough people as the numbers still fall far short of the government target. We are still not testing enough people and this makes it difficult to tell the extent of the problem.”
He said public gatherings should remain restricted as they could be sources of infectious disease outbreaks if there are no adequate public health measures put in place.
“The general public has to be aware that even if the lockdown is lifted, social distancing will remain the only method besides hand-washing to prevent transmission of coronavirus in the absence of a vaccine for an unforeseeable future,” he emphasised.