GOVERNMENT is set to impose a stricter, total Covid-19 lockdown in Harare and Bulawayo in view of a sharp increase in infections amid concerns by cabinet ministers that the public is flouting the restrictive measures being enforced to contain the spread of the virus, it has emerged.
Senior officials told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that under pressure President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in a top-level meeting on Tuesday, expressed concern over the public violation of the Covid-19 lockdown measures during a discussion on how to proceed after cases rose sharply in recent weeks, plunging the country deeper into a health crisis.
The rising coronavirus cases have prompted public health experts to warn that the country is heading towards a dangerous phase characterised by higher mortality and infection levels.
While Mnangagwa emerged from the Tuesday meeting to announce he was imposing a general nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew and banned all forms of
“public gatherings, he restricted business operations to between 8am and 3pm without decreeing a total shutdown.
Official sources, however, said during the closed-door meeting, he had indicated that if things do not improve, he would within a week re-impose a total lockdown reminiscent of the initial one back in March at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in Zimbabwe.
Subsequently, Mnangagwa gradually eased the lockdown to allow the economy to re-open following a five-week shut-down.Harare and Bulawayo, the country’s largest cities, have been the epicentres of the pandemic.
“Basically, what happened is that Vice-President Kembo Mohadi, in his capacity as chairperson of the Covid-19 taskforce, reported that the main reason why there has been a surge in coronavirus cases was that people were no longer observing lockdown regulations and were violating every rule. Social distancing was not being observed and gatherings were occurring everywhere. Even some pubs and leisure joints had clandestinely re-opened,” an official said.
“So there was a common concern that if this was not addressed, we could be plunged into dangerous phase. However, during the discussion, people seemed to favour a general curfew, which is what you saw the President announcing, and the restriction on gatherings.
“The President then said he was gravely worried by the situation in Harare and Bulawayo which have emerged as the worst affected and have the potential to spread the virus across the whole country. At the end of the discussion, he then said he will start by imposing a curfew and then asked Mohadi’s taskforce to closely monitor behavioural patterns in Harare and Bulawayo for a week and, if there is no improvement, he would be left with no choice but to impose a total lockdown.
“So I think depending on how people respond to the curfew and the prevalence of the pandemic, we may have a total lockdown from as early as Wednesday next week in the two cities.”
With the curfew in its third day today, the authorities are still struggling to enforce the new measures as people continue to venture out, particularly vendors whose movements are not permitted.
The developments also come at a time Zimbabwe’s immigration department is engaging its South African counterpart with a view to suspend mass deportations of citizens domiciled there until the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.
South Africa, which hosts an estimated two million Zimbabweans living and working there, has deported 630 Zimbabweans since the outbreak of the pandemic in March for violating lockdown regulations and other offences, according to official figures.
The authorities in Zimbabwe blame the deportations for the spike in Covid-19 cases, which have risen to 2 124 from slightly more than 100 in a month.
The majority of the local cases are transmissions from returnees deported from South Africa and those crossing the border from illegal points..
For instance, on Wednesday alone, Zimbabwe recorded 214 new coronavirus cases with 124 of them being citizens either deported or voluntarily repatriated from South Africa.
Zimbabwe’s immigration department spokesperson Canisia Magaya confirmed they are now engaging their South African counterparts to find ways of temporarily halting the deportations.
“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Zimbabwe has received a total of 7 845 repatriated citizens from Botswana and South Africa. Six hundred and thirty (630) Zimbabweans were deported from South Africa for various offences,” Magaya said.
“Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the Department of Immigration held meetings on a monthly or ad hoc basis, with respective immigration authorities, as part of routine, mutual interactions.
“Obviously, these bilateral engagements and communications which have continued during the Covid-19 times, are done in line with the Standard Operating Procedures.
“Due to the border closures and other restrictive measures which have been put in place to address Covid-19, we have however resorted to virtual interactions, particularly for the relaying of information to facilitate both repatriations and deportations.”
Some of those deported from South Africa have been escaping from the various quarantine centres across the country, spreading the virus.
For instance, last week two brothers who had been deported from South Africa escaped from isolation at a hotel in Beitbridge soon after testing positive for Covid-19 and went on to infect eight relatives at their village home, 90 kilometres east of border town.
Besides deportations, the Zimbabwean authorities are also struggling to contain surges in border jumpers and smugglers who are compounding the situation.