PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday imposed a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from Monday to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
BY ALFONCE MBIZWO/MOSES MATENGA
The lockdown will restrict people to their homes for most activities, only permitting outings for buying food or health emergencies, with security agents deployed to enforce it.
The southern African country’s Health ministry also confirmed two more cases, bringing the total so far to seven, with one confirmed death and Mnangagwa said government felt the need to tighten measures to prevent an escalation.
“Starting Monday March 30, 2020, and subject to further review, Zimbabwe will be under a total lockdown for a period of 21 days,” Mnangagwa said.
“This means all our citizens are required to stay at home except, of course, in respect of essential movements relating to seeking health services, to purchase and procure food and medicines and other critical services supplies.”
Only State and health workers and those who maintain key infrastructure such as power, water and sanitation, among others, will be exempted from the lockdown, Mnangagwa said.
“While our cases are low, this need not induce complacency on us. COVID-19 is now upon us. It can spread in leaps and bounds in so short a time,” Mnangagwa said .
“There is need to take decisive measures now against the pandemic way ahead of likely danger. I have already indicated that some of the measures will be drastic and are sure to upset daily routines of our lives as we have lived it until now but they have to be taken now.”
Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa immediately supported Mnangagwa’s action.
“The decision to lockdown Zimbabwe is necessary, wise and supported. We are in circumstances of a catastrophe,” Chamisa said on Twitter.
“There is only one Zimbabwe. We are one people. Politics aside, we must unite to save lives. Measures to test, detect and attack the virus and cushion the vulnerable are essential! Ready to offer ideas and contribute strategies to fight and defeat this pandemic!”
Of the confirmed cases, four involved travel from the United States, Dubai and United Kingdom while three involved contact with an infected person. Six of the cases were in the capital Harare.
Mnangagwa said government had decided to take decisive action, but the fragile health sector is already struggling after doctors and nurses walked out of their jobs on Wednesday, accusing government of not responding to their demands for protective equipment in the battle against COVID-19.
He made no mention of the strike by health workers in his address, but billionaire Strive Masiyiwa offered financial support, transport and insurance to the medical personnel battling the virus.
Labour unions had not responded to the offer at the time of going to print last night.
Mnangagwa said a taskforce he appointed to lead the fight against the virus had pointed to “grave threats to the nation” and that the security agents would enforce the lockdown.
“To ensure strict compliance, I have directed the national command element, the security arms to deploy as appropriate in support of civilian authority,” he said, adding funerals would be exempt, but numbers should not exceed 50.
Visits to hospitals and clinics, Mnangagwa said, remained one visitor per patient per day, while motorists seeking to refuel would not be allowed to leave their vehicles.
Only food-related markets would be allowed to operate.
He said all public transport operations would remain suspended until further notice, except the government-owned Zupco and Public Service Commission buses.
In the region, South Africa cases spiked to over 1 170, with the first two deaths reported yesterday, while Botswana leader Mokgweetsi Masisi advised the nation to prepare for the imminent lockdown via an government Facebook page.
Globally, the number of cases were nearly 587 000 by last night, with almost 27 000 deaths, with the epicentre fast moving towards the United States, which now has the most cases of any country at over 98 000.
Millers yesterday said Mnangagwa had ordered all of them to supply maize meal to residential areas only to avoid consumers stampeding for the staple food in central business districts.
The lockdown is seen hitting hard the already struggling economy, with the country’s Chamber of Mines reporting that Zimbabwe could suffer a 60% fall in mineral output in the second quarter and stands to lose over US$400 million in mining revenue due to the disruptions caused by the virus’ outbreak.