103 days of Covid-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe, and we continue to witness an alarming surge of Covid-19 cases from both returnee and local transmission. The Ministry of Health and Child-Care reported that, as at 9 July 2020, the total number of Covid-19 cases had increased to 926 after 41 new cases had tested positive.
Bulawayo Prison has recorded 4 Covid-19 cases after 3 inmates and 1 Prison Officer tested positive. From our knowledge, this is the third prison to record positive cases, following Beitbridge and Plumtree Prisons which recorded several cases between May and June. Despite our numerous calls, Government is yet to release a report on the testing and contact tracing with regards to these cases. In addition, despite several warnings over the lack of Covid-19 preparedness in prisons and detention centres, Government is again, yet to publish a report on the prisons’ state of preparedness. This is alarming, giving due weight to the fact that prisons and detention centres receive new entrants from the outside world on a daily basis, thereby exposing inmates to the risk of Covid-19 infection.
We note the President’s announcement on the intention to review the current lockdown measures given the distressing increase in Covid-19 cases. While this is commendable, we emphasize that restrictions in citizens’ movement or gatherings alone, are not the panacea to the Covid-19 pandemic. Any winning measure must be complimented and supported by vigorous mass testing, contact tracing, intensified security at quarantine centres and enhancing preparedness at prisons, refugee camps and other detention centres.
We are sad to note that the death toll has risen to 12, following 3 latest deaths reported by the Ministry. We send prayers and words of comfort to the family and loved ones of the deceased.
Critical Emerging Issues
Non-adherence to lockdown restrictions and containment measures
We continue to note a general trend, throughout communities, businesses and public spaces, indicating a relaxation in observing social distancing, use of face masks and sanitizers.
Further noting that the same trends have been observed within the public transport system;
Gravely concerned with the continuing spike of Covid-19 cases and concerned that failure to adequately observe social and physical distancing may erode all the gains recorded so far in the Covid-19 battle;
- We recommend a strict enforcement of the lockdown.
- 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.
Mass community, testing and tracing
As the Nation has witnessed a sharp increase in community transmission cases, we recognize the urgent need to intensify community 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 concerned that 4 Covid-19 cases have been recorded at Bulawayo Prison, where 3 inmates and 1 prison officer tested positive;
- We reinforce our call for an advanced testing 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 status of the Beitbridge and Plumtree Prisons.
- Further, whilst we acknowledge the fact that the testing prioritisation has been directed to mandatory quarantine and isolation centres, we remain deeply concerned at limited testing to communities broadly.
Quarantine and isolation centres
Gravely concerned with recurring incidents of persons absconding quarantine. Reports show that in the last 48 hours alone, approximately 11 persons escaped quarantine at various centres. At Beitbridge, a cumulative total of 61 persons escaped quarantine from the inception.
Reports also show that the 3 patients who managed to escape were all being held at Government operated quarantine centres;
- We urge the authorities to investigate the security activities within the Government-run centres which make it possible for patients to escape.
- We call upon Government to reinforce and strengthen security systems at quarantine and isolation centres.
Equally important, noting that women constitute the highest percentage of the quarantined persons. We bring to the fore, the need for a gendered responsiveness and preparedness within the centres, in order to ensure security and safeguarding of women and children, who are the most vulnerable sections of the population;
- We therefore recommend accelerated safeguarding measures within the centres through the integration of Sexual and Gender Based Violence prevention and response into the quarantine centres’ management, including training of staff on how to properly service different genders.
- We further recommend establishment of protection guidelines and dissemination of information in the 14 National Languages, on sexual violence within the centres and the help available.
Leadership crisis amidst Covid-19
We continue to note with great distress the leadership crisis currently obtaining in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, which is the most critical institution towards the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. This is nerve-wracking, particularly at a time when the Nation is experiencing an unparalleled spike in Covid-19 local transmission cases, and we have approximately 20 health workers testing positive for the virus in one single day. A time like this requires real leadership to make tough decisions which will go a long way in flattening the curve.
We therefore intensify the collective voices of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, which, in yesterday’s Press Conference, called for the President of Zimbabwe, President E.D. Mnangagwa to;
- Bearing in mind, the statistics on female representation, we urge the appointment of a female Minister of Health and Child Care, and other senior positions of technical leadership of the Ministry.
- We further call for the immediate appointment of gender experts at all levels of the Covid-19 response taskforce teams.
Protection of Healthcare workers and the rise of Covid-19 cases.
Statistics on Covid-19 cases continue to rise. In a disturbing development, 18 Health personnel at United Bulawayo Hospitals, tested positive for Covid-19 after exposure to an infected patient. This comes barely 2 weeks, after 14 nurses at Mpilo Hospital tested positive for Covid-19, following exposure to a Covid-19 patient. These shocking developments expose the lack of preparedness by our Health system. Over 100 days, since the nation recorded its first Covid-19 case, endless calls have been made on Government to ensure the safety of frontline and health-workers through the provision of adequate PPE;
- We therefore continue to make clarion calls upon Government to fulfil the Constitutionally protected right to health for health workers by ensuring that they are not negligently exposed to Covid-19.
- We reiterate our recommendations on preventative measures such as training of health workers on handling Covid-19 patients.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe