Returnees riot over poor conditions


POLICE were yesterday called in to stop dozens of returnees quarantined at Belvedere Teachers College from protesting over poor living conditions.


When NewsDay arrived at the centre, the protesters were at the gate while a handful of police officers tried to convince them not to protest.

Moments later, a truck with more than 20 riot police officers arrived to quell the protests.

The news crew was blocked from talking to the protesters with officials demanding a letter from the Health ministry to allow for interviews.

“We have been instructed that no one talks to them without authority from the ministry,” one official said before the news team was ordered to leave.

Some of the protesters could however, be heard saying it was now even risky for them to remain in quarantine, mixing with others likely to have COVID-19.

The protests come after similar skirmishes at Queen Elizabeth School in Harare and Masvingo Teachers College quarantine centres by returnees demanding to be allowed to go home citing poor living conditions.

Police were again called in to deal with the potentially volatile situation, but the returnees continue to protest demanding and audience with Health minister Obadiah Moyo.

Frustrated with the living conditions and alleged lies from the Department of Social Welfare and government over their long stay, more than 150 people have fled the isolation centres over the last weeks.

Government is battling to stop frustrated Zimbabweans from fleeing quarantine centres, a move that has increased fears of the spread of COVID-19 as the country recorded over 120 cases inside one week to move to 174 up from 56 confirmed cases.

Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said more than 1 000 Zimbabweans coming from cruise ships were in Namibia and on their way to Zimbabwe but said they should not expect five-star treatment.

Some were coming from as far as the United States, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Netherlands and the United Kingdom and most of these countries were seriously affected by COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) wants the government to investigate a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine centres where returnees are held for a mandatory 21 days.

In an application at the High Court represented by human rights lawyer Andrew Makoni, the doctors requested government to institute comprehensive investigations into the cause of spike in coronavirus cases at the Girls High School in Harare quarantine facility following tests conducted on May 24.

“The country has, in the last few days, witnessed rapid increase in positive cases of COVID-19, especially in quarantine centres, with the country recording 64 cases on May 25, 61 of which were in quarantine centres and another 17 on May 27 again were from quarantine centres,” ZADHR secretary Norman Matara submitted in his affidavit.

“The 35 or so who tested positive at Girls High facility had been staying at the facility from May 12 and were only tested on May 24, 15 days after their first tests were carried out at the border.”

He added: “There is high likelihood that few positive cases which went untested for more than recommended testing intervals infected others.

“There is an additional likelihood that this was due to the lack of segregated, sanitary and hygienic conditions with proper infection control and protection of all people in quarantine at the quarantine facilities.”

The doctors said the conditions at the facilities were inadequate and exposed returnees to infection.

The doctors are now seeking a relief ensuring that social and physical distancing is maintained in all quarantine centres, to ensure quarantine facilities have continuous running water and functional ablution facilities.

“Quarantine centres must be regularly disinfected with approved disinfectants and ensure the screening and testing of the returnees on the 21-day mandatory quarantine subject to testing on first, eighth and 21st day,” they submitted.

“At Gweru Polytechnic College another quarantine facility, it has been reported that returnees quarantined there complained of lack of social distancing, raising fears that this could fuel an outbreak of COVID-19 illness.”
The Health ministry is yet to file its response.


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