RETURNEES who have exceeded the 21-day mandatory quarantine period at various centres in Harare have recounted horrific experiences at the hands of government officials and security agents.
The inmates, in separate interviews with NewsDay yesterday, also bemoaned the appalling conditions in the centres as the cause of the spike in COVID-19 cases recorded since last week.
This came as Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe and several government officials toured quarantine centres in Harare yesterday afternoon after a spate of protests last week over the deteriorating conditions at the centres, where some of the returnees have reportedly bribed their way out without testing for the deadly virus.
NewsDay interviewed some of the returnees who narrated harrowing experiences, including being fed a single meal a day and being beaten up by police each time they attempted to voice their concerns.
They also complained about the quality of food, but chief among them, corruption by government officials where some of the returnees had to pay bribes to be freed or access their COVID-19 results.
At Harare Polytechnic College quarantine centre, several inmates complained that most of them had clocked 27 days, and still did not know their health status.
“Things are hectic here my brother. There are two main concerns here at our quarantine centre,” one of the returnees who refused to be identified for security reasons said.
“The first is of people who have stayed long enough to be released, but they are not. We were tested on Tuesday May 26 last week and were told that results will come within 48 hours, but some of us have nothing after eight days.”
He added: “The health department is releasing a few results per day. For example, on May 30, only 30 were given their results and released.
“The previous day, a few again were given their results and released. What is frustrating even more is that some of us have exceeded the 21 days of quarantine, but are still kept here, yet there are some who were released after six days yesterday.
“There seems to be no one in charge here because those that we thought were in charge are refusing any responsibility, saying those up the structures are the ones who should come and address us.
“How can they keep a person for over a week in a quarantine centre, yet new people are coming everyday? We are being mixed, those who have been tested and those that are arriving and not tested, increasing the risk on our lives.”
The inmate said they were being given two meals a day.
“Today (Wednesday), we only ate breakfast and nothing else until 6pm when they came and asked us to serve ourselves food, saying employees were on strike.
“Employees cooked and refused to dish out the food. The employees were alleging that they had not been paid for three months.”
He further said an inmate who eventually served them food was later in the night whisked away by an ambulance after testing positive, adding that despite taking away positive inmates, test results for the rest of the inmates were not released and they continued interacting with each other.
The inmate said his colleagues were now disinfecting the premises since workers downed tools.
Another inmate at Belvedere Technical Teachers’ College also revealed harrowing and abusive experiences he suffered at the hands of the security and other officers manning the centre.
The man (20), who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation, told NewsDay that he arrived from Cape Town, South Africa, together with his mother on May 6 and were placed at Holiday Inn Beitbridge quarantine centre, where tests were conducted.
They were made to sleep on a bus.
He said the bus was escorted from Beitbridge to Belvedere, where they arrived on May 8, but tests were not conducted.
“Upon arrival at Belvedere Teachers College, we were told that we would spend eight days and health officials would take our samples. No one came until the fifth day,” the man said.
“We then asked the officials on the sixth day if we were going to be tested since we were about to leave the quarantine centre, that is when we were addressed by one Mrs Ngara, from Social Welfare department, that there were no test kits and we must wait for the Health ministry to provide the kits.”
Days passed and no tests were conducted, while inmates continued interacting.
Samples were eventually taken, but no results were given, forcing the inmates to confront the officials demanding them.
This is when all hell broke loose, he said.
“When we confronted the officials demanding our results, they called in riot police who brutally assaulted us. All males were assaulted with batons. Some were made to put their heads down with hands on the back and ordered to sing the national anthem,” the inmate said.
He said he later discovered that some of the people he arrived with from Cape Town had bribed their way out of the centre.
“Results of four of us came, they were positive, but were not removed from the group. We have been mixing and mingling with them,” he said.
“You see that woman holding bags towards that Toyota Noah vehicle, she was said to be COVID-19 positive on Friday, but she is still with us. She was supposed to be taken out quickly after testing positive, but they did not.”
He said his mother later bribed officials and forwarded their names for results to be released.
“I don’t know how much she paid. Her results came out on Sunday and she went home and mine came today (yesterday), that is why I am leaving,” he said.
Health minister Obadiah Moyo and Information permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana were not picking calls and did not respond to questions sent to them on WhatsApp.