Police officers risk spreading COVID-19: MP


POLICE have been accused of aiding the spread of the deadly COVID-19 by patrolling streets without protective clothing and bundling those defaulting on the 21-day lockdown in crammed trucks where social distancing is not observed.

BY Brenna Matendere/Moses Matenga

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday last week declared a national 21-day lockdown to slow the spread of the virulent coronavirus that has so far killed over 55 000 people globally, infecting over one million people in 204 countries.

Mnangagwa ordered the police to enforce the lockdown that most observers feared would not succeed in the absence of social grants from government to support citizens in a fragile “street-based” economy.

Since Monday when the lockdown became effective, police have been patrolling streets across the country forcing citizens to stay at home.

Videos have gone viral from Harare, Mutare, Bulawayo, Kwekwe and other places of police officers without protective clothing beating up people, bundling them in crammed vehicles where social distancing is not being practised.

Gweru Urban MP Brian Dube (MDC Alliance) said the police risk spreading the lethal virus, instead of curbing its spread by coming into contact with lockdown defaulters without wearing protective clothing.

In an interview yesterday, Dube said the police might end up achieving the opposite of what they have been deployed to do.

“The purpose of a lockdown is to restrict movement and continued spread of the virus and not rhetoric,” he said.

“When enforcing the lockdown, our security services must be well protected, with respiratory masks, gloves, sanitiser, and also keeping a distance. What is currently happening is scary and unsafe as the service people are being recklessly exposed.”

Police have been enforcing the order without the requisite respiratory face masks, hand sanitisers and gloves, despite getting into contact with scores of residents breaking the shutdown order.

The State security agents have also not been observing the World Health Organisation recommended social distancing with civilians and even among themselves.

NewsDay Weekender has observed police details packed in a truck, exposing each other to the virus.
Dube, who is also a seasoned lawyer and MDC Alliance’s deputy legal secretary, implored government to look into the safety of State security agents to avoid a situation where they become a conduit of spreading the pandemic.

“My view is that government must be serious on this issue and protect everyone. The virus does not respect a gun or uniform and must be responded to with safety protection for all our people,” he said.

“Also our hospital personnel must be properly protected with adequate safety mechanisms, to avoid putting them in death traps.”
Security forces enforcing the lockdown and medical personnel in the frontline of fighting the pandemic have been victims of the virus in many countries since it was discovered in Wuhan, China last year.

Italy alone, the epicentre of the virus in Europe where close to 12 000 lives have been lost, over 60 doctors have died after attending to patients without protective clothing. Describing the situation, National Federation of Orders of Surgeons and Dentists president Filippo Anelli said: “Our doctors have been sent to war unarmed.”

Recently, Information minister Monica Mutswangwa, the COVID-19 national taskforce spokesperson, said government was pinning its hopes on the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to procure about 40 000 face masks for use by frontline workers in the fight against the virus, with universities producing sanitisers.