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Dumb advisors, deaf Executive

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JANUARY 2021 has been cancelled,” is a joke that went viral in Zimbabwe last weekend.

Paidamoyo Muzulu

It is a joke premised on Zimbabwe’s return to COVID-19 lockdown measures. These are the strictest conditions, where only essential service providers are allowed to go to work and inter-city travel is banned.

Informal trading is banned and those businesses allowed to operate can only do so between 8am and 3pm. And for good measure, there is a 6pm to 6am curfew.

Zimbabwe has been there before. It went on a three-week lockdown starting March 30, 2020 at the same level four.

The lockdown was then, like now, introduced without consultation among stakeholders — labour, capital and government.

The return to level four lockdown is premised on trying to “flattening the curve” of infections.

Zimbabwe this week recorded its highest number of positive cases — above 1 000 inside 24 hours and 34 deaths in the same period. COVID-19 reserved beds are all utilised and their capacity stretched to the limits.

Zimbabwe, like many other countries, was focusing on testing, tracing of contacts and isolation. However, over the past 10 months, the government, despite using millions of dollars, is still conducting less than 2 000 tests a day.

The bulk of the tests are actually being done at private laboratories and some other designated COVID-19 centres.

The Executive along the way decided also to have a council of experts advising it on COVID-19 issues. This sounded the best idea to come aboard. The board, funded by public funds, by law should produce reports that are made public. This has been unfortunately misplaced hope on a board that is dumb — excuse the pun.

Ten months after the first lockdown, Zimbabwe is not any wiser on testing roll out. There is no compulsory public testing. The people are in the dark about which demographics are at serious risk of COVID-19 infections, what is the strain of the virus that we have locally and any projected final numbers of cases that we may have and total possible deaths.

Information about COVID-19 hotspots is scant, so is the plan on managing the pandemic. The government has perfected at worst the art of muddling through and at best imitation, hence the snide title “Ramakopa” — copycat.

Lockdowns, while desirable, have to be handled carefully. They hurt the economy and destroy lives. According to Treasury, some 300 000 formal jobs were lost during the first wave of lockdowns.

There are companies that will not bounce back from the losses suffered. Unemployment and poverty are a recipe for social disaster, this is seen through rising cases of domestic violence and mental health.

Previously in this column, I wrote about — Mthuli: 700K forgotten families — an essay that highlighted the inadequacy of the $600 million cash transfer programme to help the poor and vulnerable. The country has no social safety nets. The poor are on their own and we will witness more vendors and security agents’ cats and mice games in the streets.

Interestingly, government has also failed to support ailing businesses. In June 2020, Treasury unveiled an $18 billion business rescue package.

The money, just like the cash transfer funds, has been poorly administered, with many deserving cases still failing to access it. One is left wondering if this administration can organise a piss competition or it needs massive handholding all the way.

At this rate, it is becoming apparent that the administration has no capacity to do a massive COVID-19 vaccine rollout even if the medication was made available.

The COVID-19 focal person in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Agnes Mahomva, has been too quiet and to date, she has not publicly shared a vaccine rollout plan.

Zimbabwe has lost an opportunity to debate public health policy. Our politicians have been engaged in mortal combat for power and have no time to discuss public health.

The current administration, true to its neoliberal tendencies, has one tool in its toolbox — privatisation. And it has lived to that by privatising COVID-19 pandemic management to private capital.

Besides health, COVID-19 has decimated public education. For the second year running, the educational calendar has been pared down and no one in the current administration seems to have a plan how lost time can be recovered. Like their belief in privatised health, they are working hard to privatise education.

I hazard no one in the administration noticed former British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s tweet this week. Corbyn tweeted: “With people expected to work from home and children to learn from home, everyone must have access to broadband. The time for free broadband for all has come.”

In the same vein that the administration has failed on massive COVID-19 testing and vaccine rollout, so has it too on managing public education. We need new policies on public health and education — policies for the many and not the few.

If the government advisors have a plan then they are failing to communicate it (dump). And likewise, the Executive has shown tendencies of being deaf to advice. Whatever the reasons, the combination of dumb advisors and deaf Executive is bad for Zimbabwe.

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