Zimbabwe COVID-19 Lockdown Weekly Monitoring Report 14-21 August 2020 – Days 138-145

Introduction                                                                                  
This weekly report covers days between Friday 14 to Friday 21 August 2020 of the national lockdown declared by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and has been in place since 30 March 2020 respectively. By Friday 21 August 2020 confirmed COVID-19 cases had increased to five thousand eight hundred and fifteen (5 815). The death toll increased to one hundred and fifty-two (152).

The Forum is however concerned with the inconsistencies in the statistics published by the Ministry of Health and Child Care. On 19 August, for example, the Ministry reported that Masvingo Province had 23 new cases but went to indicate that the province only had 15 active cases and 1 death and no recoveries. It is difficult to understand how a province with 23 new cases can have 15 active cases. Further, the new reporting template used by the Ministry robs citizens of vital information including the cumulative PCR and Rapid tests done to date.

Methodology
Information contained in this report is derived from the following Forum Members:

  • Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP)
  • Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
  • Counselling Services Unit (CSU)
  • Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR)
  • Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights)
  • Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA)

Highlights
Information Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Senator Monica Mutsvangwa during a post-cabinet briefing on 18 August advised the media of the following changes to the COVID-19 national lockdown regulations

  • Business hours which were ending at 15:00 hours be revisited to end at 1630 hours
  • The curfew period be reduced by 2 hours now to start from 2000 hours and ending next morning at 0600 hours;
  • Public transport drivers to undergo regular COVID-19 PCR tests;
  • Public transport buses be allowed a dedicated lane at roadblocks to expedite their passage
  • Immigrants who test negative for COVID-19 will no longer be detained on arrival but be put on home quarantine and reviews will be conducted by the Rapid Response Teams in that locality. Those who test positive on arrival will be placed in isolation centres
  • A technical steering committee with experts from all the sectors involved in the response will henceforth be constituted and have clearly defined terms of reference; The Covid-19 response is to be merged into a single response plan comprising the command centre, office of the Covid-19 chief co-ordinator and Ministry of Health and Child Care.
  • Regarding primary and secondary education, Cabinet notes that the sector is continuing with its preparations for the re-opening of schools for final examination classes. The developed and approved guidelines that were put in place for the June 2020 examinations will be used for the holding of the final examinations in November/December.

Senator Mutsvangwa also added that Cabinet is putting in place measures to ensure that health workers return to work, as the success of implementing the COVID-19 response hinges on the availability of health staff.  Acquisition of Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) for health workers and front-liners is being prioritized.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStats), the amount of money an average household of five requires to purchase both food and non-food items, commonly referred to as the total consumption poverty line (TCPL) has risen by 37,4 % to ZWL15 572,85 since June. In June, it was ZWL11 333,80. This comes at the backdrop of disrupted livelihoods particularly for informal traders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MDC Alliance Vice-Chairperson Job Sikhala announced more protests on August 31 to pile pressure on the government to end corruption, arbitrary arrests and other gross human rights violations against civilians and activists. Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Economic Freedom Fighters (ZEFF) has approached its opposition counterparts in South Africa for logistical support to the proposed blockade of Beitbridge Border Post in protest over human rights violations in the country. The demonstration is set for August 31 with activists and ordinary Zimbabweans in that country also announcing plans to stage a similar protest in Musina to force the closure of the border between the two countries. The planned protests come at a time when COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Zimbabwe and South Africa. There is a high chance of protestors contracting COVID-19 given the increasing numbers of local transmissions.

Since the announcement of mandatory COVID-19 testing of deceased people,  family members of deceased persons at public hospitals are waiting longer to collect their loved ones as authorities battle to negotiate bottlenecks in COVID-19 testing. Due to backlogs at testing laboratories, bodies are being held up in the mortuaries and only released after the results have been released. Recently, an audit at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals revealed that there were delays in the collection of bodies and relatives at times had to wait longer for the COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test results.

Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) commissioned a textile and garment factory to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) and other materials for frontline health workers. The university is also producing hand sanitisers to help in the fight against COVID-19. In related updates, St Anne’s Hospital in Harare has been opened as a COVID-19 treatment facility.

According to the National Police Spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi, police intercepted 34 suspected border jumpers and arrested two haulage truck drivers on allegations of smuggling and absconding mandatory COVID-19 quarantine centres and testing. The returnees were intercepted in Beitbridge, Plumtree, Kanyemba and Chirundu border posts. Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said they were concerned about the increase in the number of people escaping from the formal and compulsory quarantine. Some of those escaping scale security walls and fences after misleading officials they want to relieve themselves during the night while there are reports that corrupt officials or guards open the gate in exchange for bribes ranging between US$5 and US$20.

Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi added that rogue police officers have been putting up illegal roadblocks and conducting patrols countrywide to extract bribes from the public. The reports indicate that people in police uniforms driving unmarked vehicles and stopping motorists, and after threatening them with fake charges relating to COVID-19 regulations and warning them that they face automatic jail terms then suggest and accept bribes. Even fake foot patrols have been reported, again with the intention to threaten and then extract bribes using the national COVID-19 lockdown as a reason. In light of this, two police officers in Bindura were arrested at a roadblock along Batanai Road for soliciting bribes from citizens.

Most informal traders are disregarding COVID-19 health guidelines and have returned to pre-pandemic operations. In Harare, it was business as usual at Mupedzanhamo Fleamarket in Mbare where traders had masks lowered to their chins with no social distancing.  At Mbare vegetable market, there was the same laxity with multiple entries being in use despite vendors having promised to use only two entrances to minimise movement. The case was the same at Tichagarika Shopping Centre in Glen View 3 and many other similar establishments across the capital. At Mbudzi roundabout, police officers were observed focusing on vehicles picking up passengers illegally as well as hitchhikers, ignoring people flouting simple regulations on social distancing and wearing of masks.

Vice-President and the Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Constantino Chiwenga warned hospitals against demanding COVID-19 clearance certificates from people seeking medical services as well as those capitalising on the global pandemic to charge exorbitant fees. According to Vice President Chiwenga, the turning away of patients without COVID-19 clearance certificates is reportedly happening across the country at both private and public hospitals. A COVID-19 test certificate is beyond the reach of many as PCR test cost between US$20 and US$65 at private institutions while at public institutions it’s free for people only identified during contact tracing.

Primary and Secondary Education Minister Mr Cain Mathema reported that the June-July Zimbabwe School Examinations Council (Zimsec) examinations have been completed without a COVID-19 case being reported in centres countrywide. Pupils sat for the examinations between 30 June and July 23 under COVID-19 prevention guidelines including wearing of masks, social distancing and temperature tests.

With most Zimbabweans stranded in foreign countries at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic now home, the pressure on the formal quarantine centres for returning residents has eased freeing resources. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Mr Simon Masanga said the development was likely to free resources that were being devoted to quarantine centres. At the peak of the returning flow, Zimbabwe had 3 491 returnees in quarantine centres.

Summary of violations
The table below summarises COVID-19 related human rights violations documented by the Forum Secretariat and Forum Members from 30 March to 21 August 2020. 

Nature of ViolationNumber of VictimsLocation
Assault278Harare, Zvishavane, Masvingo, Bulawayo, Wedza, Chinhoyi, Zaka, Gweru, Chitungwiza, Bindura, Nembudziya, Chiredzi, Marondera, Mutoko, Chivi, Bikita, Zvishavane, Mvurwi, Mutare, Marondera, Beitbridge, Domboshava, Wengezi
Attack on Journalists20Mutare, Gweru, Chinhoyi, Harare, Chiredzi, Masvingo, Beitbridge, Bulawayo
Arrests511Masvingo, Gokwe, Gweru, Bulawayo, Chinhoyi, Hwange, Harare, Magunje, Lupane, Norton, Bikita, Mutasa, Chitungwiza, Nkayi, Makoni, Chipinge, Beitbridge, Lupane, Tsholotsho, Mwenezi, Guruve, Hwange, Murwi, Kwekwe, Chinhoyi, Chiredzi
Abductions4Harare
Gunshots2Chitungwiza, Bulawayo

Court Update
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum together with Taurai Mbewe filed an urgent chamber application at the Harare High Court, seeking an order directing the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services to take measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.  The respondents are the Commissioner-General, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, the Minister of Health and Child Care and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.  The matter is yet to be set down for hearing. 

Conclusion
The Forum remains gravely concerned by the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections that continue to rise.  The Forum, therefore, urges the government to do the following:

  • Implement advanced test strategy which ensures community mass testing and also in the public sector.
  • COVID-19 Taskforce to properly devise and implement strategies that target the hotspots that are contributing to the increase of local transmissions of COVID-19;
  • Provide personal protective equipment to all front-line workers and other law enforcement officers to curb in-country transmissions;
  • The Ministry of Health to provide adequate personal protective equipment to all health workers at all institutions in the country;
  • To ensure adequate dissemination of information to citizens to ensure that they are informed on the COVID-19 pandemic and measures required to curb the spread of infections.

Further, the Forum also registers its grave concern a relaxation by communities in observing social distancing, particularly in the rural areas and high-density residential areas amid further reports that regardless of the curfew, certain community nightspots continue to operate illegally in connivance with enforcement officers.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (HRForum)

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