ZIMBABWE’S response to the COVID-19 outbreak came under the spotlight after returnees from the United Kingdom were this week put under a two-week quarantine at Belvedere Technical Teachers’ College in Harare, an isolation centre with no running water and where people have to share toilets and bathrooms, something that is not in line with the World Health Organisation guidelines in dealing with COVID-19.
Although government tried to play down the real situation by accusing the returnees of demanding to be quarantined at a cosy hotel in the city centre, what is clear is that our isolation centres leave a lot to be desired and this is something that government is duty bound to act on as a matter of urgency.
The fact that the returnees have been using one water tap without sanitisation also defeats the purpose of quarantining them and, indeed, such a situation is more likely to achieve the opposite of what is intended.
Such loopholes are indeed a cause for concern with regards to our entire approach in dealing with this global pandemic that has accounted for thousands of fatalities across then world.
Last week, some returnees from Botswana isolated at a high school in Plumtree protested against the conditions they were subjected to and were later transferred to Bulawayo. All this further confirms that our approach indeed lacks the seriousness that this situation demands.
We might as well take this opportunity to remind political leaders and policymakers that when it comes to COVID-19, no one is safe no matter their wealth or influence. You are only as safe as the next citizen. Investing in public health facilities tasked to deal with this pandemic must, therefore, be prioritised. This includes the health institutions and isolation facilities.
Even as we fight this pandemic, basic human rights including access to shelter, water and health must be prioritised. It is wrong to treat people in isolation centres as criminals or subhuman.
Surely, things such as beds and linen, toilets with running water and clean bathrooms are the most basic needs. At a time when there is need to disseminate correct information regarding COVID-19 and the national response, it is also paramount for our government officials not to peddle falsehoods concerning these returnees.