Zimbabwe: Countdown to 1 October 2020 – the Resumption of Large Scale Social and Economic Sectors

184 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child Care reported that, as at 29 September 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases increased to 7 837 after 21 new cases were reported. Active cases went up to 1 487. 10 new recoveries have been recorded. The total number of recoveries stands at 6 122. The death toll rises to 228 after one death was recorded. 

We highlight and commend reports by the multilateral efforts made by the WHO and the Global Partnership on COVID-19, particularly on availing 120 million affordable, quality COVID-19 rapid tests for low and middle-income countries (LMICs). We note with particular commendation that the tests will cost USD $5 maximum as opposed to the USD $65 currently charged for a local test in Zimbabwe. Further, we note with commendation that the test results will be available 15 to 30 minutes after the test is administered, as opposed to the 10 to 14 day period, which our networks continue to reports on, as the waiting period experienced by some clients. We commend further, the Global Fund commitment to availing an initial US$50 million to enable countries to purchase the new tests, with the first orders expected to be placed this week.

Thus, we urge the Government of Zimbabwe to play its role in the community of nations and also actively participate in this process to ensure that the gross unmet need for testing in Zimbabwe is reduced significantly.

We highlight studies in the global logistics chain management systems by DHL and MacKinsey which seek to raise awareness and support progressive actions by Governments in anticipation of COVID-19 vaccine global roll-out, towards the end of 2020 into mid-2021. The study notes that currently, more than 250 vaccines, across seven platforms are being developed and trialed around the world. It further notes that as COVID-19 vaccines have leapfrogged development phases, stringent temperature requirements (up to -80°C) are likely to be imposed for certain vaccines to ensure that their efficacy is maintained during transportation and warehousing. Currently the global cold supply chain management system conventionally distributes vaccines at -2 to –8°C. The report strongly urges that “To respond effectively to the next public health crisis, governments need to start putting strategies and structures in place today, rather than relying on reactive, ad hoc measures when the crisis hits.”

We therefore urge the Government of Zimbabwe, during the restructuring of the health sector and through the on-going Inter-Ministerial Team on COVID-19 readiness for vaccines distribution in Zimbabwe, to plan practically and invest where necessary.

Today, Government made several announcements regarding the COVID-19 situation in the country. Firstly, we note the introduction of sentinel surveillance systems to support the resumption of the Education sector.  We note that each school and learning centre will be allocated to a particular health centre to support testing and response on cases in those learning centres. Whilst we commend the actions, we continue to urge stakeholders to ensure that tangible measures are established prior to announcements and relaxation of measures. We are concerned that no details have been furnished as to the accessibility of testing in schools or the provision of tests to various sections of the population as per sentinel surveillance protocol indicated. We continue to note widespread reports of limited to no access to learning-centre sanitization, provision of PPEs for both learners and teachers, and no access to sanitizer/hygiene products.

Critical Emerging Issues

Education sector and access to water

We commend Government for demonstrating a commitment to ensure the safety of learners, teachers and supporting staff in the Education sector, through setting up surveillance centres, mandatory screening and logging systems. We are however distressed by Government’s decision to bar from re-opening, schools that are not able to provide water to its beneficiaries. We are concerned that this measure is not only exclusionary but a gross violation of a constitutionally protected right, which is the right to education. Government is constitutionally charged with the duty to ensure the progressive realisation and enjoyment of this right. Therefore, Government cannot abdicate and delegate mandate. From time immemorial, we have been constantly raising the dire water crisis in the country, and thus Government cannot pretend it is business as usual, by turning a blind eye and making unrealistic demands. We continue to bemoan measures which ultimately place the burden of the national pandemic on the shoulders of over-burdened and over-stretched communities.

  • We therefore urge Government to come up with comprehensive strategies to ensure that all schools have access to water.
  • We remind Government that every child has a right to education and therefore no learner should be discriminated against and penalised on the basis of their schools’ capacity to mobilise resources for “procurement of water”.

Entry points and mandatory test fee for suspected COVID-19 cases

We are shocked by the introduction of mandatory testing of all travellers at entry points showing COVID-19 symptoms, whether or not they have a COVID-19 free certificate, who shall be tested and charged the mandatory payment of USD 60 COVID-19 for the test. We are alarmed at the mixed signals that Government is sending out to returnees and travellers alike and yet remaining in anticipation of supporting the damaged tourism sector. We note that these measures appear directed at increasing revenue into the national coffers as opposed to being genuinely anti-COVID-19. We highlight the plight of many citizens of various income levels who have failed to travel back home during the lockdown period and the large-scale diaspora population which also is not able to afford such increased costs of visiting home. We further question Government on how it proposes to cater to the frozen deportations by various SADC Member States who have not sent returnees home due to an effort to support each other to reduce importing and exporting cases. The frozen deportations are affecting communities of persons in holding centres and other such places who are not able to afford such exorbitant costs of returning home.

  • We therefore call upon Government to exercise restraint. While we recognise that it is imperative to put in place adequate monitoring and surveillance systems at entry points, we submit that a mandatory fee of USD $60 is too steep and out of reach of many citizens, particularly those engaged in cross border activities. 
  • We further urge ensuring affordability and accessibility of COVID-19 test fees. In the same breadth, we recommend a downward review of the COVID-19 test fees at entry points. 

COVID-19 and violence against women 

We continue to highlight the inordinate impact of COVID-19 on violence against women. We highlight the launch of the Violence Against Women and Girls during the COVID-19 Crisis in Zimbabwe analysis of practice-based data from Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, supported by SAFE and the Foreign Common Wealth and Development Office. It is with alarm that we reiterate the unacceptable levels of GBV and continue to call for stronger, clearer and more coherent state-driven responsiveness to GBV in Zimbabwe. We highlight alarming findings of the “hidden pandemic” such as:

  • The 43% increase in reports of violence compared to May 2019 
  • 74% increase in reports of violence from the preceding month April 2020
  • 43.8% increase in physical violence:
  • 80.3% increase in emotional violence:
  • 42.4% increase in economic violence: 

We recommend stakeholders, CSOs and  Government of Zimbabwe to urgently;

  • Implement a dedicated ring-fenced budget to increase domestic funding for national GBV response.
  • Ensure donor investment on GBV prevention and response is long-term, prioritised and coordinated
  • Ensure the designation of all GBV services (including shelters, Victim Friendly Units and helplines) as essential services is properly enforced. 
  • Work with the Zimbabwe Republic Police and the courts to protect women and girls, prevent impunity and ensure women survivors can continue to access support and justice during the COVID-19 crisis.

Outstanding Issue

Community transmission: workplaces and public spaces 

Our monitoring continues to reveal an increase in economic and social activities within communities and businesses, yet at the same time, demonstrating non-adherence to safety measures such as physical distancing, sanitization of workplaces and regular temperature checks. We worry that such conduct may lead the nation into another spike of COVID-19 cases. 

  • We continue to urge citizens to observe physical distancing as they meet and interact in public places such as banking halls.
  • We urge businesses to continuously fumigate premises and workplaces for the safety of workers and patrons.
  • We continue to call for the strict implementation of public health safety protocols in the public transport system.

Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe