114 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child-Care reported that, as at 21 July 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases had increased to 1,820 after 107 new cases tested positive, of which 84 are local transmissions.
This evening, Government announced further stringent measures on enforcement of the lockdown, with effect 22 July 2020, which is just a few hours from now. Noting the alarming rate at which cases of community transmission are rising, we commend the efforts to ensure strict compliance with lockdown and public health guidelines. We however, notice a distressing trend, where announcements which have a huge bearing on the day to day lives of citizens, are made on a last-minute basis and with immediate effect. Given the difficult circumstances under which communities are operating, it is necessary that they are given ample to time to process and adapt to the new measures.
The newly announced measures include a daily dusk-to-dawn curfew, which starts from 6pm-6am. It has also been announced that all “non-working sections of the population” must stay at home, except when they seek to get food and water. It is not clear what the term “non-working sections of the population” entails.
We note with concern the re-introduction of the notion of “wilful transmission” in legal measures which we have consistently raised real and grave concerns given our history and context in other public health concerns areas such as HIV/AIDS. We call upon government to attend to this red flag immediately.
Whilst we acknowledge the announcement of the stricter lockdown measures, we note with concern the heavily securitised nature of the measures. The curfew, supported with criminalisation of escapees form quarantine centres and prohibitions on social, religious and political activities.
These limitations, without being supported by a state report, on the preparedness of the public health centres in readiness to deal with increased cases, the comprehensive tracing report of local cases, the number of hospital beds ready to take on extreme cases of COVID-19 patients, the measures to address the on-going industrial action by health care workers, fundamentally undermine the perception of taking public health centric measures the government seeks to communicate.
Critical Emerging Issue
Hunger and social protection measures
While it is clear that Zimbabwe has moved into a stricter lockdown phase for an indefinite period, it is concerning to note that Government has not fully considered the socio-economic welfare of citizens, particularly women whose livelihood is heavily reliant on the informal sector, and domestic work. Appreciating that stern measures are required in order to curb the spread of the pandemic, there should be a balancing act between safeguarding lives and securing livelihoods for vulnerable communities. It is insensitive and insulting, for authorities to disregard the economic vulnerabilities that women have been exposed to, in the time of COVID-19.
We note with disappointment, the unacceptable delays in the implementation of social protection measures announced by Government during the early stages of the lockdown.
We further note that the relief grants pegged between ZWL$180-$250, clearly do not correspond with the level of hardships women are currently facing, especially considering the increase in prices of basic commodities. Families are hungry, and the extension of the lockdown has not made it any easier on women-headed households.
Concerned further that only 202,077 people had benefited from the COVID-19 informal sector relief fund which has a limited target of 1 million beneficiaries over a 100 days since the lockdown began.
- We therefore urge prioritisation of the implementation of social protection programs in order to alleviate COVID-19 induced economic shocks suffered by vulnerable households.
- We recommend a total overhaul of the social protection programs in order to ensure that they fully correspond with basic commodity price hikes and the increase in the cost of living.
Report on status of testing of employees in public and private sectors
Reports reveal that a number of Government employees have been exposed to COVID-19 in one of the Public Service Commission buses. Noting startling numbers in the Ministry of Health and Child Care COVID-19 reports, particularly on local transmission, we remain wary of thousands of employees in both the private and public sectors making use of public transport, reporting for work, and coming into contact with others, without undergoing any COVID-19 tests.
Noting that over 2 months ago, Government made it mandatory for all employees to be tested for COVID-19,
- We urge Government to update the Nation on the current status of compliance with this law, particularly for employees in the public sector. The Ministry of Health and Child-Care must publicize the statistics of Government employees who have been tested for COVID-19 since the gazetting of this particular law.
Water and sanitation
Communities continue to face challenges in accessing adequate water and sanitation. We note that this global pandemic requires increased levels of hygiene and in particular, clean and safer portable water. We highlight the plight of women in Gweru, Bulawayo and other surrounding areas who have been placed under phenomenal strain, as they seek to assess water through other alternative means.
- We therefore urge the critical need for the rapid escalation of medium- and long-term water solutions as part of the COVID-19 response actions.
- We therefore reiterate our demand for a comprehensive national approach and plan to address the chronic and persistent shortages of water in Zimbabwe’s communities.
- We call upon an increased expedition of operational and administrative responsiveness to communities in crisis not only by the constrained Local Authorities but by central government and its applicable national institutions to ensure that citizens are able to access water.
Weakening anti-COVID-19 measures in supermarkets and stores
We highlight the weakened vigilance in retail supermarket stores including some large scale national retailers, across the country, in regards to COVID-19 measures in stores. Despite having made considerable efforts in the beginning of the opening of stores, the measures adopted in the retail sector, in-store, have weakened significantly over the past weeks. In particular we draw attention to the;
- Lack of floor markers or marking which have become eroded over the past weeks but have not been replaced,
- No visible adherence to surface cleaning and counters cleaning especially in deli and bakery sections,
- No adherence to social distancing at the till queues in-store and no one enforcing such social distancing in stores.
- No perspex dividers or separators, between till operators and members of the public. This is especially problematic as Government and employers would be well aware that in several countries these areas have been identified as high risk spaces for both employees and customers.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe