59 days into the lockdown, and we witness unprecedented increase of the COVID-19 positive cases. The Ministry of Information and Publicity reports that the total number of confirmed cases now stands at 132. The Ministry reports that the majority of the cases are returnees currently held in quarantine facilities namely in Harare, Masvingo and Bulawayo.
We note, that the announcement indicates that the majority of the cases are from mandatory quarantine centers but includes the local transmission cases. We await specific updates on these local transmission cases. We further note the extended updates which were extensively detailed by the Ministry of Health and Child Care addressing the rapid spike and we await the appropriate demographic disaggregation to support the update.
The spike of cases within the quarantine facilities, sends a chilling warning to all of us as, we consider other places of detention such as prisons and refugee camps, especially against the background that Government is yet to publicize guidance and reports on the measures that are currently being enforced to minimize spread of COVID-19 in these vulnerable and confined populations. This is particularly important, in prisons, where there are new entrants every day, from the outside world, who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Critical Emerging Issues
1. Conditions in Mandatory Quarantine and Isolation Centres
The latest COVID-19 statistics which have risen by 76, are a cause for concern particularly considering that the majority of the cases have been recorded in quarantine facilities. This shocking development raises critical questions, as the general populace attempt to cope with the distressing news. Of key note is the question as to whether the travellers are infecting each other while travelling, or while in quarantine. This brings to the fore discussions as to the readiness and suitability of the quarantine facilities and isolation centres.
We note that since the roll-out of the mandatory quarantine system, complaints have also been continuously made concerning sanitization, overcrowding and shortages of testing kits, within the facilities. Given these challenges, we reiterate the possibility that the centres, in themselves may have become hotspots for infections, thus posing risks for quarantined persons.
- We therefore urge Government to facilitate access to:
- Safe quarantine centres which are not overcrowded, and where social distancing is effectively enforced.
- Appropriate and adequate provision of water and sanitization.
- Access to information regarding their stay their procedures to be followed upon their release, their ability to communicate with friends and family
2. Security at quarantine facilities
We reiterate our on-going grave concerns concerning the conditions at mandatory quarantine centres which appears based on other incidents at mandatory centres to be driven by poor conditions in the facilities. Further, we reiterate our on-going anxieties of the security measures at mandatory quarantine centres which are compounded by news pointing to poor security with the quarantine facilities, which has seen quite a number of returnees absconding quarantine. Reports today indicate that 18 returnees today, managed to leave Mkoba Teachers College quarantine centre undetected. We note that reports of abscondment are not only limited to the Mkoba only, but to other facilities as well.
We note the risk posed by absconding returnees, particularly as some absconders may be unaware of their COVID-19 status and may proceed to re-enter communities, and spread the infection.
We bring to the fore, the case of the Norton resident, the patient who travelled from Cape-town and was placed under mandatory quarantine, tested for COVID-19, but was however released before the test results came out. It later turned out that they were COVID-19 positive. All this points to poor security systems within the facilities.
- We therefore call for stringent measures in fortifying security systems within the quarantine facilities to ensure that no one absconds the same.
- We further urge Government to ensure that the facilities are fully capacitated to meet the diverse needs of the diverse quarantined returnees. This includes sanitization, decent meals, adequate sexual and reproductive health services, to both men and women without stigma.
- We call for strengthening of community tracing teams to address the expanded tracing needs of the positive case and those who have absconded.
3. Access to testing within the quarantine facilities.
We note with concern the recent demonstration by 232 quarantined persons at Belvedere Isolation Centre on Saturday over forced payments of $65 for testing. This simply increases the deficiencies within the facilities. We note that it is the Government’s responsibility to cater for tests for all persons, hence asking detained travellers to foot the bill, is deplorable. The capacity of Government to service all quarantined persons, is once again put under scrutiny.
- We therefore urge the Ministry of Health and Child-Care to enhance the provision of access to testing at the costs of the Government
- We call upon the urgent prioritisation of strengthening Zimbabwe’s testing capacity and by resourcing that expanded testing direct capacity.
1. Support for persons with disabilities
We continue to note reports highlighting that Government is yet to fully disburse the sum of ZWL$600 000 to vulnerable populations, particularly persons with disabilities. Noting that it is almost 2 months since the inception of the lockdown, and that most persons with disabilities rely directly on the informal sector for their very livelihood:
Noting further that the enforcement of the lockdown has clearly become a clampdown on the informal sector and therefore constituting an undue and harsh burden on a vulnerable sector which is substantively unsupported by the state.
- We buttress our calls on Government to expedite its social protection program and disbursement measures to vulnerable communities.
2. Social Distancing
We continue to note a general trend, throughout communities, indicating a relaxation in observing social distancing, since the Nation’s transition into Level 2, particularly in the rural areas and markets.
Further noting the challenges citizens are failing in observing social distancing within the public transport system;
Concerned that failure to adequately observe social and physical distancing may erode all the gains recorded so far in the COVID-19 battle;
- We remind the general populace on the need to fortify their efforts in maintaining both social and physical distancing, in every environment which may include work, public transport or supermarkets
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ)