268 days of the COVID Lockdown, and as of 21 December 2020, the Ministry of Health and Child Care reported that the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases increased to 12 422, after 97 new cases were reported, all local cases. Active cases therefore went up to 1 988. The total number of recoveries stands at 10 112, following 88 new recoveries. The death toll now stands at 322, following 2 new deaths.
We note and fully recognise the warning issued to Zimbabwe by the WHO regarding COVID-19 at present. We note and support the recommendation by the WHO to Government to ensure that Zimbabwe does not loosen its guard against COVID-19.
Whilst we fully acknowledge the steps to strengthen enforcement of COVID-9 regulations over the festive period and the limitation on festive season’s activities, we believe the Government can take further steps to ensure reduced risk of transmission and stall the rising COVID-19 infection rate.
- We urge for stronger enforcement of sanitation, mask-wearing and social distancing.
- We call for citizens to avoid crowds and large gatherings as much as possible and if they must participate in congested spaces, to ensure strict mask-wearing and that sanitization is respected.
- We call for Zimbabweans to exercise a higher degree of personal responsibility to protect themselves and others.
Critical Emerging Issues
Implications of new COVID-19 Variants in South Africa and the United Kingdom on Zimbabwe
Some of the largest Zimbabwean diaspora communities are reported to be based in South Africa and in the United Kingdom. The socio-economic relations between Zimbabwe and these two countries cannot be underestimated together with the Zimbabwe tradition of trekking home during the festive seasons. However, the impact of the new COVID-19 strains has key implications for the Zimbabwe government, which must be directly addressed through the review of COVID-19 regulations.
We draw reference to the South African situation. South Africa, Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner and a neighbouring represents the busiest border post in SADC is facing on-going increases of COVID-19 cases. As of the 21st of December 2020, South Africa had run over 6 million tests with a cumulative total of 930 711 cases of COVID-19 and 8 789 new cases. Of concern in the South African second wave of COVID-19 is the recording and reporting to the WHO the “501.V2 variant” with a greater speed of transmission and affecting younger persons directly. Further, young persons without co-morbidities are developing severe forms of COVID-19. At present, reports indicate that the past week has been characterised by heavy congestion at Beitbridge Border Post the main port of entry between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Reports further indicate that on both sides of the border, congestions, delays and backlogs are creating a “super spreader point.” We repeat concerns regarding the disregard for COVID-19 testing for travellers promoting the usage of false COVID-19 test results. We continue to note the weaknesses at the Border Post testing centre itself wherein passengers are bundled into congested public spaces awaiting the testing which in itself may expose travellers who were free from COVID-19 to the infection. We note the long periods of time being taken to process both passengers and goods on either side of the border which again means long unnecessary and high risk to potential COVID-19 exposure by the border posts communities and those who transit there.
We draw further reference to the United Kingdom. As of the 21st of December 2020, United Kingdom had over 2 million cumulative cases of COVID-19 and 33 364 new cases. The United Kingdom is presently investigating ‘VUI – 202012/01’ (the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020) that transmits more easily than other variants. Present reports indicate that the new strain of the virus is noted to be 70% more transmissible. We note experts who warn that the said strain may already be circulating in countries with less advanced detection methods than the United Kingdom.
Whilst we note that Zimbabwe may have less advanced detection methods than some in the developed nations, to trace possible variants and strains of COVID-19 in the country, we urge vigilance against the same.
We note further that over 40 countries have imposed restrictions on arrivals from the UK. These countries include India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Jordan, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman.
Whilst we are fully aware that arrivals from the United Kingdom play a significant role in the tourism and entertainment sectors which have faced difficult times, we remain concerned at the implications of open corridors with the United Kingdom at this time and the risk of imported cases whilst the UK seeks to weather their second surge.
We note that at present arrivals from the United Kingdom already have restrictions set upon them such as the provision of COVID-19 negative tests and requirement to self-isolate at stated addresses. We note that those with positive tests are presently denied entry or subjected to a 14-day quarantine.
In light of these circumstances;
- We urge the government to protect the efforts made in the health sector thus far and protect the fragile frontline sector from additional pressures.
- We urge the Zimbabwean government to take steps to prevent the new variants from entering the country during these busy times where there is a peak in returning travellers.
Reduced media coverage of COVID-19
We note, with growing concern, reduced media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in Zimbabwe, as the Nation continues to endure the second wave of infections which appears to be stronger than the first wave. We further note the COVID-19 fatigue not only amongst communities but also amongst stakeholders, duty bearers, the media and the information community.
Cognisant of the key role played by the media in addressing matters of national concern.
- We call upon the media to remain vigilant in contributing to the pandemic prevention and response in Zimbabwe.
- We call upon the editors and respective newsrooms to continue to prioritise the coverage and reporting of COVID-19 as we face difficulties in navigating the curve of infections over a festive period which poses a real risk of being a super spreader period.
Increased demand for public transport
We highlight concerns regarding the alarming number of citizens who are travelling for the festive period placing a phenomenal demand on the national transport system.
We continue to note with alarm the reduced adherence to COVID-19 protocols in ZUPCO buses and in inter-provincial buses, for example ensuring passengers sanitise their hands and tests for temperature upon embarkation.
We note with growing concern the high number of the commuting public who queue for transport in congested transport depots and pick-up points, in large crowds for long protracted periods often with limited adherence to mask wearing.
We note further with distress that the persistent transport shortages continue to pose real-time safety and security concerns for women as the reduced access to transport increases their vulnerabilities.
- We therefore recommend a review of the public transport COVID-19 enforcement measures at pick-up points.
- We call for the increase of public transport providers to reduce congestion in public transport buses and public transport nodes which are potential super spreader sites.
- We urge the commuting public to exercise the greatest level of responsibility in protecting themselves and protecting others.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe