BY MOSES MATENGA
ZIMBABWE yesterday closed its borders as government tightened measures to control the spread of coronavirus after the country recorded its first casualty from the pandemic, journalist Zororo Makamba, who died at Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare.
All returning residents will be subjected to a strict 21-day quarantine period and additionally, will have to produce a certificate that they were COVID-19 free when coming from coronavirus-affected countries as government seeks to prevent the spread of the virus.
Addressing the nation last night, President Emmerson Mnangagwa also ordered the closure of bars and said government was considering shutting down popular open markets such as Mbare Musika, but would for now deploy health security personnel to enforce high levels of hygiene.
“While borders remain open to essential traffic both in and out of our country, non-essential travel is banned except for cargo. This will not affect our returning residents. All returning residents will go through strict screening procedures, 21 days in quarantine and that must not be breached,” he said.
The southern African country has recorded two cases of the coronavirus, but its first casualty was of broadcast journalist Makamba (30), the son of Telecel Zimbabwe founder James Makamba.
Mnangagwa said with immediate effect, all non-essential local travel should be restricted as well as “unnecessary social visits”, including to friends and relatives.
“With immediate effect, there is a blanket ban around night clubs, bars, beer halls, swimming pools and sporting facilities until further notice.”
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Hospital visits, Mnangagwa said, would now be limited to one visit and one visitor per patient per day while also reducing the number of people expected at any social gathering from 100 to 50.
He said it was now necessary for essential and non-essential staff to work from home as a measure to deal with the spread of the coronavirus to minimise human contact.
Mnangagwa said high-density spaces like Mbare Musika would have health and security personnel on site to maintain high level of hygiene, but added that there was consideration to shut such markets down while government would deploy resources to key areas, including water, to ensure minimum risk.
Earlier, Health minister Obadiah Moyo told journalists that Makamba had travelled to New York and upon arrival, had social and professional interactions that could have exposed those who interacted with him.
He urged all those who had come into contact with him to self-isolate and to get tested.
“As you may be aware, we had recorded two positive cases of COVID-19. Today, Wilkins isolation centre recorded a death of one of our COVID-19 patients. Our deepest condolences go to the Makamba family following the death of their son Zororo Makamba. Zororo passed away around midday today,” Moyo said.
“Zororo, according to his doctors, had serious other underlying conditions which made him vulnerable and I wish to advice our nation not to panic because of his death as Covid 19 is curable if someone has all the precautionary measures.”
Videos of Makamba partying with friends in New York emerged yesterday, where they shared drinks in what appeared to have been a bar.
Both Zimbabwe’s cases, including that of the Victoria Falls man, had travelled outside the country.
A local bank immediately issued a statement claiming all those who interacted with Makamba had been put on self-quarantine.
The coronavirus started slowly in Africa, but is spreading fast, increasing fears further spread could be catastrophic on a continent with poor health infrastructure.
About 43 countries out of the continent’s 54 have recorded cases, now in excess of 1 500 and over 42 deaths.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last night imposed a 21-day countrywide lockdown starting Thursday midnight after the number of cases spiked to 402 yesterday.
That country’s first COVID-19 patient, however, and three others were discharged after recovering.
Mozambique recorded its first case yesterday, while Namibia reported its fourth.
Globally, the death toll passed 16 100, while infections passed 336 900 last night, as World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the spread of the virus was accelerating after it took 67 days to reach 100 000 cases from the first reported case, only 11 days for the second 100 000 cases, and just four days for the third 100 000 cases.
A meeting of African Finance ministers on March 19 in a virtual conference to exchange ideas on how to handle the virus, concluded that the continent needed a US$100 billion war chest to tackle the virus and deal with the likely depression as a result.
The ministers, according to a statement released yesterday by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, called for a co-ordinated effort to tackle the virus, which is set to have far-reaching implications to African countries’ already fragile economies.
“Africa needs an immediate emergency economic stimulus to the tune of US$100 billion,” the statement by the Economic Commission for Africa read.
“As such, the waiver of all interest payments, estimated at US$44 billion for 2020, and the possible extension of the waiver to the medium term, would provide immediate fiscal space and liquidity to the Governments, in their efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Zimbabwe last week launched a US$26,4 million kitty to fight the deadly virus, but nurses on Sunday threatened to down tools over lack of training of health workers to handle the virus and unavailability of protective clothes, casting a huge shadow on the country’s preparedness.
Asked what the country needed to effectively tackle the virus, Moyo yesterday said he had briefed his boss, Mnangagwa, on the need for a budget.
“I met the President to emphasise the need for a budget on Covid 19,” Moyo said.
Yesterday, Chinese business magnate Jack Ma announced a donation of a consignment of COVID-19 medical equipment to Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The Ma and Alibaba foundations also gave over 1,5 million laboratory diagnostic test kits and 100 tonnes of infection prevention and control commodities.
Another Pan-African communications consultancy group, APO Group, has pledged to aggregate and distribute all relevant content and information on the virus issued by African governments for free through its press release distribution service.
Following the death of Makamba, many local companies, as well as Parliament, turned workers home as a mitigatory measure, with Chief Justice Luke Malaba announcing a ban on weddings, trials on hearings on no-urgent matters for two months with immediate effect.
“All weddings are cancelled; parties may approach the courts for rebooking after a period of two months. No hearings will be done in chambers,” Justice Malaba said.
At Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals yesterday, people entering the premises were screened for coronavirus.
The screening was not thorough though, as this reporter was only asked a few questions, including whether he had travelled outside the country, any contact with a person who recently travelled and was only given a note and allowed to proceed.
Moyo alleged that some unscrupulous business owners had taken advantage of demand for face masks and hand sanitisers to double the prices, adding government would take action to stop such “unscrupulous acts”.
Mozambique yesterday closed its borders with Zimbabwe to try to curb the spread of the virus.
— Additional reporting by Andrew Kunambura, Desmond Chingarande and Precious Chida