TINASHE KAIRIZA/CHIEDZA KOWO
ALTHOUGH President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week announced Level 4 lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, but glaring violations of regulations by top government officials, including himself, and a sluggish vaccination drive could derail efforts to contain the deadly pandemic which has claimed 1 749 lives in Zimbabwe as of Wednesday.
With Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 cases and fatalities rising sharply, Mnangagwa imposed a Level 4 lockdown for the next two weeks to contain the pandemic that has claimed millions across the globe and devastated the global economy.
Owing to spiking infection cases and deaths, the government has been compelled to impose localised lockdowns in Kwekwe, Hurungwe, Karoi, Kariba and sections of Bulawayo, among others.
Zimbabwe, under the throes of a deadly third wave of the virulent disease, recorded over 74 000 active cases, amid a slow pace in vaccinating the population to achieve herd immunity.
Nearly 780 000 people have so far been inoculated against a target of 10 million to achieve an immunised population.
Under terms of Level 4 lockdown, intercity movement is suspended; industries will decongest their staff complement by 40% while business operating hours have been reduced. This will be coupled by a vigorous awareness drive by legislators and ministers to encourage citizens to observe the World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid-19 regulations and volunteer to be vaccinated as Zimbabwe hurtles towards achieving herd immunity.
Mnangagwa’s latest restrictions are commendable but his multiple address to public gatherings as well as top government officials have been criticised as potential super spreader events of the deadly pandemic.
Prior to announcement of the latest restrictions, Mnangagwa, accompanied by a strong delegation of four cabinet ministers and top government officials officiated at the Cultural Week festivities held at Chief Njelele’s homestead in Gokwe May 21.
The event, which was also marked across all the country’s 10 provinces, drew scores of villagers, in total disregard of social distancing. Some of the members who attended the events were not wearing masks, in line with WHO safety regulations.
The following day, he attended the memorial service of the late Agriculture minister Perrance Shiri in Chikomba district, where a sizeable group of people attended.
Four days later, Mnangagwa, whose cabinet has lost four ministers to Covid-19, unveiled the statue of Mbuya Nehanda in the capital before a crowd which did not strictly adhere to WHO regulations, particularly relating to social distancing.
Last Saturday, Mnangagwa officiated at the graduation of 1 200 prison officers in Ntabazinduna near Bulawayo despite a government ban on all gatherings except funerals. Under the Covid-19 safety protocols, the government has limited the number of mourners at funerals to 50.
At the event, he freely mingled with the graduates without wearing a mask and in defiance of social distancing rules, exposing the futility of his administration’s measures to contain the pandemic.
While Mnangagwa alongside government officials have been addressing huge gatherings in defiance of Covid-19 safety protocols, opposition activists namely Joanah Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri, Netsai Marova and Fadzayi Mahere have been arrested for defying the same regulations.
This has sparked an outrage, with Mnangagwa’s administration being criticised for weaponising Covid-19 to thwart dissent.
Not to be outdone, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, has also been on a nationwide crusade where she has addressed sizeable crowds in defiance of safety regulations.
In recent times, she has held fasting and prayer meetings.
In the face of the blatant violations of Covid-19 regulations by Mnangagwa and members of his administration, the government has also been criticised for not fully equipping frontline workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Frontline staff workers have reportedly gone for months on end without receiving United States-dollar Covid-19 allowances, dampening the morale of those leading the fight against the pandemic.
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa noted that the defiance of Covid-19 safety protocols by top government officials would derail the fight against the pandemic.
“If what I’m hearing is correct, then it means we have a glaring breach of Covid-19 guidelines by government officials. I understand there were some gatherings by politicians. We do not like such gatherings at this juncture where the nation is struggling to contain Covid-19,” Marisa said. “What we need to do if we are to have a better picture of what is happening on the ground is to scale up our testing. Testing is very important at the moment.”
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enoch Dongo implored authorities to invest toward the procurement of medicines and equipment.
“By imposing the lockdown, it means the government is doing its best in assuring people’s safety,” he said.
“What the government is lacking is equipment. There is no appropriate medication if one needs to be treated for Covid-19. There are no ventilators even the front-line staff members are not fully equipped.”
Key towards containing the spread of the disease is to enforce regulations, particularly in high-density suburbs and informal settlements where revellers are embarking on night-long drinking sprees without adhering to social distancing and putting on masks.
Without government leaders taking the lead to adhere to safety protocols, efforts to contain the scourge of Covid-19 will be in vain.