115 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child-Care reported that, as at 22 July 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases had increased to 2,034 after 214 new cases tested positive, of which 90 are local transmissions.
It is distressing to note that 2 big supermarkets in Harare and Norton have been forced to temporarily shut down, after two (2) employees had tested positive to COVID-19. It is disturbing particularly, noting the huge number of persons frequenting supermarkets on a daily basis, and realising the potential domino effect this may have on local transmission. We therefore reiterate concerns over the weakened vigilance in retail supermarket stores including some large-scale national retailers, across the country in regards to COVID-19 measures in stores. This worrying situation requires employers and businesses, more than ever, to ensure strict adherence to the public health guidelines, and periodic testing of employees in order to minimize risk of exposure to customers and the general populace.
Critical Emerging Issues
Curfew and transport crisis
The curfew announced by Government, came into effect today. Reports from our networks, particularly in Harare indicate untold challenges which citizens faced today attempting to access public transport from the Central Business District. This has also been mainly attributed to the lack of capacity by ZUPCO to meet the growing demands of commuters, against the 6pm curfew. This has also resulted in commuters overcrowding and disregarding physical distancing, as they jostled their way at the bus terminuses.
Gravely concerned by the movement of the ZUPCO the sole public transport operator licenced to operate during the lockdown to insist on cashless tap card payments without prior mass notice to the commuting public which was making payments in cash.
Whilst we note that ZUPCO has been using a mix of payment systems for commuters we remain concerned by measures that are announced on the day of the stricter lockdown and on the eve of the first night of curfew and those implications on commuters, who are having to spend over 4 hours in queues waiting for the scarce transport.
- We continue to call upon the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing and also the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to enhance the capacity of the public transport system to cater for the high demand by the public.
- We call upon the enforcement agents to effectively enforce social distancing and frequent sanitization protocols at bus terminuses and pick up points.
Protecting and supporting adolescent girls
Aware that COVID-19 has resulted in the unprecedented disruption in educational sector, not only in Zimbabwe, but the world over.
Further aware that children have been spending most of their time at home and in communities, due to the indefinite closure of schools.
While statistics have already shown an increase in adolescent pregnancies in Africa during COVID-19, we continue to warn against the high probability of adolescent girls’ exposure to sexual exploitation, and child marriages in Zimbabwe. In mitigating these risks, and developing early warning systems, we recommend the following:
- Government agencies, Ministry of Health and Child Care, the Zimbabwe Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit (VFU), Social Welfare Department, and civil society organisations to prioritise awareness raising and support services on protecting adolescent girls, and to create a more solid community base for the welfare and protection of children, particularly adolescent girls, during disasters and disaster recovery.
- Government to actively support mechanisms to provide support to household through the deployment of Social Welfare officers to conduct the critical inspections at homes that are reported to be at risk, and to respond to such risks by:
- Ensuring that helplines for children remain fully functional.
- Prioritising funding shelter and other places of safety for survivors.
- Expanding critical services for children and ensuring accessibility.
- We call for an expedition of the mandatory sentencing framework for rape.
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.
Pregnancies in adolescent girls
We raise to the fore the issue of increased reports from our networks, of pregnancies in adolescent girls as the COVID-19 crisis continues to escalate in the country. Continuing to reiterate the need to ensure access to adequate sexual reproductive health and rights services for adolescent girls,
Decrying the stigmatisation suffered by adolescent girls seeking to access accurate and adequate information on sexual reproductive health rights and services.
Concerned further, by the increased vulnerabilities faced by adolescent girls in communities at large. Noting that nearly 1 in 10 adolescent girls (age 15-19) give birth every year while many die or are injured during childbirth.
Concerned by the context that girls in primary schools face greater risks of pregnancies in comparison to secondary schooling girls (37% as at 2019) we are highlighting the exacerbation of vulnerabilities raised by the COVID-19 lockdown in communities for girls.
- We call for stronger measures to provide mobile clinics and community based health care workers to support adolescent girl’s access to sexual and reproductive health rights services.
- We call for the activation of measures to extend protection and safeguarding measures of young girls already in marriage during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe