Lockdown arrests feared to be Covid-19 superspreaders

SILAS NKALA

The International Coalition Against Coronavirus for Africa Development (ICAC-AD) is worried that the current massive arrests of alleged lockdown violators in Zimbabwe and other African countries coupled with the crowded prisons could become superspreaders of the deadly coronavirus through detention of large numbers of people in holding cells and prisons.

ICAC-AD which has membership across the Southern, Western and Central Africa regions in early 2020 had called for all African governments to decongest prisons to prevent the spread of the pandemic among inmates.

The current ICAC-AD concerns come in the wake of some opposition politicians such as MDC-Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere having been detained in remand prison and came out Covid-19 positive.

Also the announcement of the second lockdown starting on January 5 sparked an escalation of arrests of the offenders with many being held at police stations holding cells before they could pay admission of guilt fines, a period which the organisation fears could give a chance for the virus to spread.

Thousands have been arrested so far for violating the lockdown.

ICAC South Africa chapter first Vice President Chandagwinyira Chose said they reiterate their call for all governments across the African continent to decongest prisons, saying this way they will minimise the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

“We are appealing to all governments police authority to investigate cases before detaining people, but not to arrest them then to start investigations. We are urging all governments to address their policing authorities across the African continent and beyond,” Chose who is Zimbabwean said.

“Governments must put in place grants for the people of each country when they are doing lockdowns, as we are aware of the informal traders’ situation who depend on their own terms. It will be very difficult to close down without them being guaranteed of any income from the government.” He said the same people are forced to do their errands to survive.

“Though ICAC-AD isn’t encouraging people to break their governments’ policies, the governments should think of it’s people before harsh decisions are made.

ICAC-AD is encouraging all governments to do consultations with their Academics and Captains of industries that will help them to come up with right lockdown policies suitable for the people,” Chose said.

“Remember that the economy is also collapsing and the governments are losing revenues due to these lockdowns, let’s all work together and fight to eradicate poverty and the pandemic for our people to survive. We urge all our people to follow the laid down World Health Organisation (WHO)’s pandemic guidelines. Masks are supposed to be on everywhere until we have a cure.”

Zimbabwe’s prison population last year had reportedly reached 20 000 and President Emmerson Mnangagwa pardoned 2 528 from different prisons countrywide under the amended Presidential clemency order as part of measures to decongest the country’s prisons.

Togo based ICAC-AD President Toure Moussa Zeguen originally from Ivory Coast recently called on all African countries to free the prisoners to avoid the contagion and death of cascaded Covid-19 in Africa.

“The ICAC, aware of the situation of prison overcrowding in Africa’s most countries, is concerned about the fate of our fellow citizens, brothers and sisters detained in remand and correctional facilities,” Moussa Zeguen said.

“We invite the African authorities at the highest level to take action and emergency measures to take into account the recommendations of the United Nations requesting the relief of congestion on the basis of vulnerability criteria such as age, state of health (hypertensive, diabetic, asthmatic and pregnant women) etc.”

Moussa Zeguen said the ICAC pleads with governments to release the prisoners who comprise children and their mothers, the disabled, political prisoners, minor crimes and long-term prisoners (more than three years) without trial or final decision.

“For countries at war where belligerents detain prisoners of war, the ICAC demands the outright release of hostages and prisoners of war because they are not condemned to death,” Moussa Zeguen said.

He said Covid-19 pandemic crisis is a natural disaster like a world war that strikes all countries and survival will depend on ability to anticipate and react in synergy in a spirit of frank collaboration between populations and state authorities.

The concerns come in the wake of police in Zimbabwe having arrested thousands of people for violating lockdown since the start of the second lockdown which has been extended by two weeks.