Zimbabwe Lockdown: Day 117 – WCoZ Situation Report

117 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child-Care reported that, as at 24 July 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases had increased to 2 296 after 172 new cases tested positive, of which 152 are local transmissions. Cumulative recoveries are now at 514 cases. The death toll currently stands at 32, following 4 deaths recorded today in Bulawayo, Harare and Midlands. 

As Zimbabwe heads into the first weekend in the tightened lockdown, we note the heavy presence of police including riot police in the central business districts across the country. The policing approach seems to support a policy perspective that indicates that heavily congested public spaces are strictly in central business districts of the Zimbabwe’s town and cities and accordingly, though somewhat bizarrely, that high density residential areas, where people actively confined to and are congregating for multiple social, economic and cultural activities are not points of COVID-19 infections.

This does not strengthen the actual control and containment of the spread of COVID-19.

Deeply concerned at public reports that indicate police using hailers ostensibly to raise awareness on the onset of the Curfew last night yet in the same public messages were outrightly threatening citizens with beatings if they failed to ensure they got home on time. This, in congested public transport hubs to which commuters waited for every 4 hours for the sole authorised public transport provider ZUPCO buses.

Critical Emerging Issues 

Curfew and transport crisis 

Reports from our networks, particularly in Harare continue to reveal untold challenges which citizens faced today attempting to access public transport from the CBD. This has also been mainly attributed to the lack of capacity by ZUPCO to meet the growing demands of commuters, against the 6pm curfew. This has also resulted in commuters overcrowding and disregarding physical distancing, as they jostled their way at the bus termini.

Gravely concerned by the movement of ZUPCO, the sole public transport operator licenced to operate during the lockdown, to insist on cashless tap card payments without prior mass notice to the commuting public which was making payments in cash.

  • We continue to call upon the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works which is the Ministry responsible for ZUPCO and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development which is the ministry responsible for transport to actively collaborate and coordinate to enhance the capacity of the public transport system to cater for the high demand by the public.
  • We call upon the enforcement agents to effectively enforce social distancing at bus termini and pick up points.

Curfew and harassment by enforcement officers

Reports from our networks in Harare indicate the use of force by the enforcing agents in ensuring compliance with the 6pm curfew put in place by Government.  

Reports reveal that some citizens who had been queuing for the scarce ZUPCO, in the CBD, were harassed and beaten by the enforcement agents, for failing to take heed of the curfew. Deeply distressed that reports indicate commuters walked over 20 kms in the dark to reach their homes in response to the fear of being caught on the wrong side of the curfew despite having been waiting for the limited public transport for over 4 hours. 

Distressed by the undue risk that women face in such circumstances due to gaps within policy law and practice. 

Noting that the challenges commuters are facing in accessing ZUPCO and navigating their way home:

  • We urge Government to revisit its decision on the curfew times in direct response to the State capacity to provide state transport to the commuting public.
  • We urge the enforcement agents to operate within the parameters of the law, and treat citizens with respect and full respect of their rights as espoused in the Bill of Rights. 
  • In the same vein, we call upon the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission to stand ready to protect the rights of citizens in these difficult times and ensure that decisions on curfew clearly correspond with the reality and challenges citizens are currently facing, particularly in the public transport sector.
  • We call upon the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission to utilise their full mandate to address the gaps in law, policy and practice that are eroding rights and undermining efforts of social cohesion during a critical point in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic 

Policy inconsistencies 

We continue to note a growing trend in policy inconsistencies and the distortion of the definition of essential service. We note the announcement that religious gatherings of not more than 50 persons are allowed, and that such gatherings should disperse by 3pm. 

This is in contrast to the original measures pertaining to communal religious activities what required a maximum of 3 hours and only 50 persons. Under this announcement it appears it is a relaxation for religious activities in contrast to the perception of increased restrictions.

Such inconsistencies and uncertainties present challenges and expose citizens to harassment by the enforcing agents. 

  • We therefore call for a clear position on movement, travel permits and essential services, in order to allay the concerns and uncertainties citizens may have regarding movement and gatherings. 

Outstanding Issues 

Mass community testing and tracing

Noting the alarming statistics on local transmission, we recognize the urgent need to intensify community mass testing and contact tracing. 

Whilst we note the updates make references to the numbers local transmission cases which were the result of tracing the contacts of known cases, remain concerned regarding broader, proactive identification of cases beyond those currently tested under community transmissions.

The lockdown measures put in place, including the curfew can only work when fully supported with mass testing and contact tracing. In the absence of mass community testing and public accounting for local transmission case-tracing we continue to raise queries on the appropriate reflection of the COVID-19 pandemic prevalence in Zimbabwe. 

Further, whilst we acknowledge the fact that the testing prioritisation has been directed to mandatory quarantine and isolation centres, we remain deeply distressed concerned at limited testing to communities broadly.

  • We reinforce our call for an advanced test strategy which ensures community mass testing and also in the Public sector.
  • We further urge Government to give a long outstanding report on the tracing of contacts of the all the local transmission cases thus far and to appropriately inform the applicable communities. This includes an update on the tracing progress of the Beitbridge and Plumtree Prisons.

Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ)