BY RICHARD MUPONDE/MIRIAM MANGWAYA
ZIMBABWEANS have urged the government to ease COVID-19 restrictions today and allow churches, businesses and informal traders to operate, arguing that the latest two-month lockdown had subjected many people to abject poverty.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to announce new lockdown measures today, while the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education last Thursday said government was pondering over the safe reopening of schools.
By last night, Zimbabwe had recorded 36 089 cases and 1 463 deaths.
The Education Parliamentary Committee wants the ministry to seek tents from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to create temporary classrooms to ensure there is social distancing at learning institutions when schools reopen.
“Teachers must be prioritised for the COVID-19 vaccination since they are frontline workers in the education sector,” read a report on COVID-19 preparedness at schools by the committee..
“The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education must engage with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) before schools open for a transitional school mechanism whereby tents are used to create temporary classrooms and ensure that learners have more learning time in school as compared to the status quo, whereby some learners had been coming to school once a week.”
The Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) said schools should be opened backed by scientific data to avoid having to be closed again.
“We must meet certain variables to ensure that once we have opened schools, we have to sustain their re-opening. Let us do things based on scientific data. Once we open schools and the economy, we must not find ourselves in a position where we will be worse off than when we started.” Zimta secretary-general Goodwill Taderera told NewsDay.
He said government should deal with the welfare of teachers, as well as comply with the World Health Organisation standard operating procedures and guidelines.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers Association president Denford Mutashu urged government to reopen the economy.
“We have been thrown into abject poverty in an economy that is more than 65% informal, and where people have been living from hand-to-mouth since January. Now there is no need to continue with the COVID-19 lockdown extension,” he said.
“What we need to do is to continue the fight against COVID-19 through accelerated nationwide vaccination and preventative measures while adopting a measured reopening of the economy as the majority of people are struggling.”
MDC Alliance secretary for health, Henry Madzorera said the country could not be in perpetual lockdown.
“We cannot be in perpetual lockdown, especially in a country where there are no social safety nets, but the decision to lift the lockdown must be based on data and science, not on political considerations,” he said.
“Weaponisation of the lockdown is a tragedy, and many in Zimbabwe feel the lockdown is being used as a political weapon.”
Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe executive president Johannes Marisa said: “We expect businesses to resume operations although with some strict recommendations. Schools must open in March and surely, weddings must be allowed as well as church gatherings. The curfew must actually be removed.
“We shouldn’t be very strict, but we have to balance economic activities with public health. Continuing with the lockdown is useless as many people are actually defying the lockdown measures mainly because they can’t survive; they have been impoverished, there are very poor people and are at a standstill.”
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said: “We expect the government to manage the pandemic effectively and strategically. They must keep people informed about the intended duration of their measures to provide support for the elderly, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups to ensure the welfare of people who have lost their incomes and are in desperate need of food, water and other essential services.”
Meanwhile, Health deputy minister John Mangwiro last week told Parliament that the country was expecting more vaccines, adding that they would not only rely on Sinopharm, but would include Sputnik V (Russia), Sinovac (China) and Indian vaccines.
Zimbabwe has started rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination programme, with 18 843 people having been inoculated by yesterday morning after the country received 200 000 Sinopharm doses donated by China two weeks ago.