THE world over, the major news is only about one thing, coronavirus or COVID-19. Countries, cities and states are going into lockdowns to contain a blowout of this fast-spreading virus which has left the entire globe facing an uncertain future.
After slow and often-ponderous responses to the spread of the virus, governments are scrambling to play catch-up. As it is turning out, tomorrow is not given and authorities are enforcing the lockdowns with harsh penalties for offenders and often brutal force or just public shaming.
On Monday, Zimbabwe began its first full week of the nationwide lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa set out the rules governing the lockdown period. Mnangagwa does not do subtle or have finesse of his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, he goes straight to the point.
“For the avoidance of doubt, any person who publishes or communicates false news about any public officer involved with enforcing or implementing the national lockdown in his or her capacity, as such, or about any private individual that has the effect of prejudicing the State’s enforcement of the national lockdown, shall be liable for prosecution under section 31 of the Criminal Law Code and liable to the penalty there provided, that is to say a fine up to or exceeding level fourteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both,” reads the Statutory Instrument 83 of the 2020 Public Health, COVID-19 Prevention, Containment, Treatment and Lockdown Order. The lockdown is a necessary evil. We can look at the pros and cons of the rules and their effect on rights of individuals and organisations on a different forum. But the public response to the lockdown has been erratic.
In Harare’s central business district, companies largely observed the lockdown despite some malcontents defying the ban. Police officers could be seen telling them to go back home, as civil as possible. In the high-density suburbs, however, the story is different. Many are out and about going about their business as if things are normal. Why do people need the police or the army to order them to obey a decree that is clearly for their benefit? The body bags we have seen on international television of the victims of the virus are staggering. What more does the government need to do to make people understand the danger to their very lives? In Zimbabwe’s case, more needs to be done in terms of educating the public that staying at home will save lives.
Zimbabwe’s healthcare system is already in the doldrums, that is why all confirmed cases of coronavirus are in self-quarantine, and not in any public or private hospitals or facilities. Any mass infections will surely lead to thousands of deaths.
COVID-19 can tear through mass populations at lightning speed and Zimbabwe’s unprotected communities can be wiped out just like that in a country that has no ventilators necessary to save lives in this pandemic. Elsewhere in this edition, we point out that epidemiologists have postulated that without social distancing and lockdowns, peak mortality from COVID-19 will be very high in the next three months. This means real disaster is ahead, more deaths of our beloved ones are still ahead, the real catastrophe is still ahead. Most European countries, notably Italy, Spain, US and the United Kingdom took a liberal view of the virus and the measures. The results are plain to see. So fellow Zimbabweans, stay at home, in your yard, it will save your life and those of your loved ones. May the authorities deal with those who prioritise their fun and endangering other people.