116 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child-Care reported that, as at 23 July 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases had increased to 2 124 after 90 new cases tested positive, of which 83 are local transmissions.
Yesterday 214 cases pushed the positive COVID-19 case count to past 2000. Today an additional 90 cases increased the case count in the country heralding 16 days of continued spikes in the case count. With the stricter lockdown measures now in effect, including a dust to dawn curfew, we remain concerned that the lockdown appears to be a central business district lockdown.
Reports from our networks, including the communities of Harare, Mutare, Guruve, Gwanda and Chinhoyi indicate that town and city central business districts indeed have increased visibility of enforcement officers and check points, however the same was not reported in highly congested residential communities to which the majority of citizens are now confined for the majority of the day. Right across the country, residential communities are undertaking, unchecked social and livelihood activities with limited social distancing and mask wearing being effected. The enforcement approach appears to believe transmission of the diseases is only restricted to business districts.
Accordingly, we wonder whether COVID-19 regulations have been translated by enforcement officers to only apply to central business districts in the various towns and cities and wonder if the Government believes that residential areas or communal areas are safe from infection?
Critical Emerging Issues
We continue to note a growing trend in policy inconsistencies and the distortion of the definition of essential service. As of today, it was announced that religious gatherings of not more than 50 persons are allowed, and that such gatherings should disperse by 3pm. Such inconsistencies and uncertainties present challenges and expose citizens to harassment by the enforcing agents.
- We therefore call for a clear position on movement, travel permits and essential services, in order to allay the concerns and uncertainties citizens may have regarding movement and gatherings.
Mass community testing and tracing
Noting the alarming statistics on local transmission, we recognize the urgent need to intensify community mass testing and contact tracing. The lockdown measures put in place, including the curfew can only work when fully supported with 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, 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.
- We reinforce our call for an advanced test 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 progress of the Beitbridge and Plumtree Prisons.
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 CBD. 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 commuter we remain concerned on 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 scares 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 agent to effectively enforce social distancing 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.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe