To lock in or to ease out? Zimbabwe Lockdown: Day 34

This Saturday weekend, is the weekend that Zimbabweans prepare to enter their second lockdown extension, in the midst of a marked lack of clarity on the realities of what easing measures will ostensibly look like. The past 24 hours have been quite eventful, with the extension of the lockdown, reversal of COVID-19 statistics and the promulgation of Statutory Instrument 99 of 2020. Most reports we have received from our grassroots networks were bemoaning the lack for effective and accurate information. Therefore, this situation report dwells on the fundamental questions and issues that have been highlighted by women in our networks.

Day 34 of the Lockdown and the eve of World Press Day whose flag we are enjoined to raise as we contemplate on Sections 61 and 62 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution providing and protecting freedom of expression and the media, and access to information. The fullness of these rights is furthered by sections 57, 58, 59 and 60 of the Constitution encompassing the rights to privacy, freedom of assembly and association, freedom to demonstrate and petition, and freedom of conscience. These constitutional rights and freedoms seek to set a strong and clear foundation for the engagement, interaction, information exchange and accessibility amongst citizens and also between the State and its citizens. This relationship has been lately, brought to the fore in a very unique manner, due to COVID-19 lockdown, communications exchanged within communities and also engagements with Government. It raises significant questions regarding the ability of the public to access information, raise their voices, without fear and express their concerns on the quality of data, information and communication exchanged between the State and citizens.

1. Easing of the Lockdown and SI 99 of 2020

Following the announcement on the extension of the lockdown, many questions have been asked in regards to what Level 2 really entails in real life. The nation has bemoaned the lack of clear and adequate communication by Government in regards to the rights of citizens and operations under this partial lockdown. Whilst we commend the Presidential announcement pertaining to the extension of the Zimbabwean lockdown by a further 14 days as of the 4th of May 2020 and; the subsequent promulgation of the applicable regulations in Statutory instrument of 99 of 2020, we remain distressed by the quality of the information from Government in that, the communication is deficit and devoid of the key and critical operational and administrative steps and measures to bring the policy positions to life. This status quo, unacceptably, places communities and indeed even the enforcement arms of the State, in the grey zone, regards to compliance and enforcement.

Concerned with the grey areas glaring therein, we wish to bring to the forefront the following problematic areas:

  • Insufficient clarification on which institutions qualify under the exemptions.
  • Too much discretion in the hands of the enforcement officers, which may unintendedly encourage rent-seeking behaviour on the part of the enforcement officers.
  • Inadequate information on workplace sanitation, hygiene and cleaning standards to be adopted or followed within the employers’ premises. Therefore, posing a potential risk for work premises becoming sites of infection. This is of concern particularly as we are aware from companies around the work that continued to operate during lockdown and subsequent workplaces became centres of infection.

We await therefore, the detailed, express and explicit sector guidance notes from the various Ministries of Government, so as to ensure that the discretion given to the enforcement officers is guided. We have a legitimate expectation that Government Ministries have the appropriate and applicable level of intimacy and nuanced understanding of their sectors so as to avoid the creation of a context where unintended negative circumstances may occur – which, in the experience of our communities and networks, is always tilted in the disfavour of the poor, the vulnerable and women.

Accordingly, we all upon Government to urgently expedite the publication of sector guidelines from ministries pertaining to the easing of lockdown. We in turn expect supporting regulations to be equally detailed.

2. Mandatory Wearing of masks

Noting that as we move into Level 2, every member of the public is now mandated to wear a face-mask;

Concerned with the lack of information and guidelines on the handling of masks, by the masses;

  • We therefore call upon the Ministry of Health and Child Care to address public concerns regarding wearing of masks, and to issue detailed guidelines on the acceptable types of masks, so as to provide certainty to both the communities and enforcement officers. This will go a long way in addressing issues of compliance and harassment.
  • We further urge the Ministry to widely disseminate information on hygiene and disposal of used masks within the communities, so as to avoid infection.

3. Access to testing

Noting mixed messaging on the Testing Strategy in country, we call upon Government to explicitly set out the testing strategy and clarify on the mixed messaging on access to testing.

Further noting that the easing of lockdown requires Industry and Commerce employers to engage the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare in order to access and facilitate testing for their employees prior to resuming business;

  • We reiterate that the critical need to unveil the administrative and operation details of this procedure, to ensure uniformity and viability.
    Furthermore, we note from the reports of our networks, that testing for COVID-19 clearly remains a scares resource. We therefore warn that this context sets up a queue and long waiting list for industries and businesses approaching Government for testing. This will unintendedly exacerbate competition for access to testing, with the health strategy that is meant to lead in detecting suspect cases of COVID-19. Our concern therefore is: Who will jump the queue?

In addition, we note with distress that come Monday morning, on the 4th of May 2020, how many applicable industries will actually open their doors without falling foul of the regulations? Again, this mass communication to workers has not occurred.

4. Quality of information

While we acknowledge periodic updates on COVID-19, from the Ministry of Health and Child-Care, we continue to critique the discrepancies within the statistics reported. Earlier today the Ministry of Health and Child-Care, announced that the last 6 cases that were reported as COVID—19 positive, were found to be negative after a Quality Assurance process was performed.

This is disturbing, if not terrifying. The integrity of the Ministry and the accuracy of the data provided will continue to be heavily questioned by the general public due to such inconsistencies. It also opens a pandora box of placing under scrutiny, the accuracy of previous tests that have been performed before, especially the 34 confirmed cases. The question that has been widely asked today by women and stakeholders in our networks is: If the tests are not as accurate, would it not be prudent to subject all the other 34 cases to a Quality Assurance?

This SITREP is developed by and through, the collective network of organisational and individual members of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, who are engaged at community levels to national levels in the COVID19 Zimbabwe response.

Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ)

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