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Jail time for breaking Covid-19 regulations

...opposition feels regulations open to political 'abuse'

Authorities in Zimbabwe will arrest individuals who break mandatory quarantine, isolation or partake in gatherings during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency as part of a concerted effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government published Statutory Instrument (SI) 77 of 2020 to focus on Public Health prevention measures of COVID-19, its containment and treatment, where those found guilty of flouting regulations would be liable to a fine not exceeding level 12 or to imprisonment for a year.

According to SI 77, a “gathering” means any assembly, concourse or procession of more than 100 persons, whether wholly or partially in open air or in a building, which has been reduced to 50 in the latest pronouncement by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“Isolation” means separating a sick individual with COVID-19 from healthy individuals in such a manner as to prevent the spread of infection or contamination by COVID-19 while “quarantine” means separating asymptomatic individuals potentially exposed to COVID-19 from non-exposed individuals.

SI 77 states any person who disobeys and removes himself or herself from detainment, isolation, or quarantine in any place without the knowledge or consent of an enforcement officer, or contrary to any conditions specified for any temporary release shall be guilty.

This also means any person who escapes from any place of detention, isolation or quarantine may be arrested without a warrant.

But the opposition has expressed reservations with the regulations, particularly the section on public gatherings saying the SI could be abused even after the virus is contained.

MDC Alliance Bulawayo provincial spokesperson, Swithern Chirowodza, told CITE that he was uneasy with the law as it can be later used to curtail the democratic rights of people at a later stage.

“As much as we appreciated efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus catastrophe, we will sleep with one eye open. We are wary that Mnangagwa, who has consistently exhibited a dictatorial streak, may abuse this statutory instrument to strip the opposition and the generality of Zimbabweans of their freedom of association,” he said.

According to SI 77, any person partaking at a gathering or convener, partakes in or convenes a gathering knowing that such gathering is prohibited or refuses to disperse from a gathering after ordered to shall be guilty of an offence.

Chirowozda doubted that the government could scrap SI 77 and lift the penalty measures.

“It remains to be seen if Mnangagwa would lift the SI ban on gatherings even after defeating the pandemic and restore the rights of people to meet,” he said.

Meanwhile the MDC has also suspended all its programmes and activities.

“The party after serious assessment and careful consideration of the current situation in the country, as regards the COVID 19 global pandemic, suspended all its activities and programmes. The suspension is with immediate effect. This means NSC, NEC and National Council meetings that were set have been suspended,” said the provincial party spokesperson.

He added all party workers were advised to work from home, serve for a small core unit that would individually be advised to report for work.

“The party shall make special arrangements for the safe movement of all such core staff so as to make sure their health and safety is guaranteed,” Chirowodza said.

MDC also suspended commemorations it had planned for the International Women’s Day.

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