Some of the deportees who came back from South Africa escaped from the Beitbridge Quarantine centre and efforts to locate them are underway.
Zimbabwe has been receiving large numbers of people coming back from other countries in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mandatory quarantine period is 21 days, with testing conducted on the first, eighth and 21st days, according to the government’s latest testing plan for returning residents and international travellers.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Ndavaningi Mangwana confirmed eight people absconded from Beitbridge.
“There are 197 people at Beitbridge Quarantine Centre as of today (Tuesday).111 males, 64 females, 11 boys and 11 girls. Eight absconded and 22 were discharged. 49 are still awaiting their PCR results (that is COVID-19 results tested from the Polymerase Chain Reaction machine). Efforts are underway to account for those who absconded,” he said on his Twitter platform.
According to Statutory Instrument 77 of 2020, Section 6 (4-5), it is a criminal offence for a person to leave any place of detention, isolation or quarantine without clearance and may be arrested without a warrant.
They are liable to ﬁne not exceeding level 12 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.
In an interview with CITE, Deputy Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Lovemore Matuke, said some returnees did not understand the importance of quarantine.
“They are not treated like prisoners but deal with friendly units when they come in to the country. The returnees come in large numbers and the ratio does not match number of police officers on the ground to watch them,” he said.
Matuke said returnees needed to be educated on why going on quarantine was important.
“They need education of the importance on quarantine to their families, friends and fellow countrymen. But some don’t understand it,” said the deputy minister.
He claimed there was a possibility that those who would have escaped could have been criminals who did not want to be arrested.
“Some of these people would have committed crimes then run away to South Africa for hibernation. Now when they are here and have a chance to run away, they do. It’s a mixed bag of people who come back to the country. Some are genuine, some are not genuine.
“Those who are not genuine would have committed crimes such as murder, theft or some would have run away from their families or have pending cases. It is not everybody who is genuine. Profiling is underway at Beitbridge but go with a camera, some may run away not wanting to show their faces,” Matuke explained.
Matuke said quarantine centres were not prison facilities but their aim was to provide security.
The deputy minister acknowledged that his department was focused on the people’s welfare and was not up to speed with security issues at the centres.
“As for the bigger picture, why some absconded may not come from social welfare but security. I am giving you an answer from a social point of view,” Matuke said.
He lamented that the escapees left at a time when testing could have been in progress.
“They could have absconded anytime in the process. I don’t know if they had done testing but they should have gone for proper testing. I am not sure if they had completed that, I don’t have enough information but once testing is done, they graduate to leave,” said the deputy minister.
There is a possibility that if the escapees had not tested but were positive for COVID-19, they could transmit the virus to others, a point which the deputy minister concurred with.
“It is correct to say they can infect others but it doesn’t eradicate that police will follow up on them. Some may have crossed back into South Africa but police will find them since details were taken during profiling. This is the challenge when dealing with humans because it is really an offence to run away from a quarantine centre,” Matuke said.