Zimbabwe declares state of disaster amidst denial and contradicting statements
On Tuesday 17 March President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared Coronavirus a National Disaster. This came barely 48 hours after Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri had told a rally in Chinhoyi that the Coronavirus was God’s way of punishing the West for sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. Her remarks demonstrated lack of understanding of both the origins and the spread of the pandemic. Contrary to Minister Muchinguri’s claim, the pandemic originated in Wuhan, China, one of Zimbabwe’s all-weather friends. The virus, now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization has spread to many European countries, America and Africa, including Zimbabwe’s neighbours. South Africa, a close trading and diplomatic partner to Zimbabwe, has already declared the pandemic a national disaster.
No Travel Ban
Whilst the majority of countries around the world have imposed a travel ban on people travelling from high risk Coronavirus countries, Zimbabwe continues to receive visitors from any country, including China. In his address to the nation, Mnangagwa said travellers from high risk countries are ‘encouraged to postpone their travel plans to Zimbabwe…’ More so, thousands of Zimbabweans are crossing the Beitbridge border posts, risking contracting and transmitting the virus. Bus passengers usually spend at least 18 hours on the road travelling with persons who might be infected by the virus, defeating the purpose of social distancing. There are no sufficient health checks at our borders, meaning that those infected can easily enter the country undetected. The testing equipment/machine or method being used at Robert Mugabe International Airport is use of a thermometer to check temperature and also posing questions to incoming travellers.
If a person’s temperature is above the normal body temperature they are taken aside for questioning. However, this method is inadequate for persons who are yet to exhibit signs and symptoms of the virus. This exposes immigration staff, hotel staff, transport operators and ultimately the whole nation to the virus.
Mnangagwa banned gatherings of more than 100 people. This ban is practically unenforceable in a country where people gather in thousands in queues for fuel, transport, passports and basic commodities. But perhaps the most shocking position announced by President Mnangagwa is to keep schools open for the next two weeks whilst banning weddings and church gatherings. This again demonstrates policy inconsistency, trivialization of the pandemic and failure to understand the essence of social distance. Schools pose the highest risk of spreading the virus compared to any other institution. This is because schools accommodate children as young as 5 years, with no understanding of the threat of the coronavirus. Children by nature love playing together and they share furniture, books and other learning and sporting materials which can be transmission agents for the virus. By keeping schools open, teachers and non-teaching staff are also exposed to the virus. Once a single child is infected, a significant number of pupils and staff also get infected and ultimately they take the virus home and the spread continues. Children and teachers and non-teaching staff can also carry the virus from their families to the school or vice versa.
There are doubts that Zimbabwe has the necessary capacity to efficiently test the coronavirus. Zimbabwe has not yet recorded any Coronavirus case within its borders, according to the Ministry of Health. However, in February a woman, allegedly of Chinese origin died at Wilkins Isolation Hospital from an undisclosed illness, shortly after travelling from China. Government only admitted that the deceased person was Chinese after being pressed by the media. Lately, images of a visibly unwell Chinese woman in Harare streets have been circulating on social media. The woman was eventually taken to Wilkins Hospital for Coronavirus testing and the results are not yet known.
CNRG calls on the government of Zimbabwe to:
- Impose a firm travel ban on people travelling from high risk countries and regions.
- Carry out awareness campaigns on the symptoms and prevention of coronavirus.
- Declare the true picture of the extent to which Zimbabwe is affected by the virus.
- Be as transparent as possible in communicating the status of preparedness in dealing with the Coronavirus.