Rights doctors express dismay over lockdown extension

Men wear protective masks as they walk down a deserted street on the first day of the 21-day nationwide lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

HUMAN rights doctors have lashed out at government for extending the national lockdown in the absence of evidence for such cause.


The doctors also accused government of showing a lethargic approach towards conducting widespread polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests for COVID-19.

This came as Zimbabwe recorded three new COVID-19 infections last night, taking the tally to 51.

Two of them were returnees, while the other one was said to be a Harare resident with no travel history.

In their fifth COVID-19 Monitoring and Advocacy Report yesterday, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said in the absence of key epidemiological evidence on the true distribution of COVID-19 in the country, it would be difficult to ascertain the basis for extending the lockdown period.

The doctors said the lockdown should not be extended as a cover-up to curtail people’s civil and political rights, “but must be extended if evidence points that we have not yet met the World Health Organisation (WHO) criteria of lifting lockdowns”.

“Zimbabwe continues to lag behind in meeting its testing and health infrastructure strengthening targets due to inadequate allocation of fiscal support from the central government. There is also little attention being paid towards ensuring that the lockdown will not exacerbate socio-economic vulnerabilities to Zimbabweans,” the rights doctors said.

“ZADHR is of the view that the lockdown extension must be benchmarked on clear targets, have a defined timeframe and must always be complemented by adequate support for vulnerable populations.

“The government of Zimbabwe must also start developing sector-wide policy guidelines that inform how the country will exit the lockdown.”

Last week, two centres designated to conduct COVID-19 tests in Bulawayo — Mpilo Central Hospital’s National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory and the Applied Genetic Testing Centre at the National University of Science and Technology — suspended operations owing to lack of consumables amid reports there was a backlog of over 700 untested cases in the city.

The doctors also expressed concern over the “poor” state of affairs at the quarantine facilities, adding they would be “actively monitoring” the quality of care at the quarantine facilities and would seek available forms of recourse in all substandard facilities that violate the rights of returning residents.

“Government must conduct focused testing using PCR kits on entry and on exit of the quarantine facilities to curb the spread of COVID-19 within and after the quarantine period. Supportive infrastructure for psychosocial support, other communicable diseases screening and treatment, non-communicable diseases management, child and gender friendly services and educational support for minors must be urgently provided in the quarantine period.”

Of late, new cases are being recorded at quarantine centres from returnees.

On the issue of lack of enough personal protective equipment (PPE), ZADHR said most government-run health facilities in the country lacked such equipment, adding “unavailability of PPE is a violation of the High Court ruling which directed government to provide adequate PPE to all health workers”.

Last month, the doctors sued government for failing to provide PPE for its workers in health facilities.