Govt gets tough on coronavirus

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Tendai Kamhungira  and Fungi Kwaramba

STAFF WRITERS

AS THE country reels from the effects of the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, including misinformation on social media — Health minister Obadiah Moyo, pictured, is mulling passing a raft of regulations that will see peddlers of falsehoods being caged.

This comes as government gazetted sweeping regulations to empower designated medical officials to compulsorily enforce the testing and screening of people suspected to be suffering from the novel disease. The country currently has three confirmed cases of coronavirus, which has so far killed over 18 000 people across the globe, including journalist Zororo Makamba, who died at Wilkins Hospital on Monday.

Apart from the Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) Regulations, Moyo said government will also pass regulations to bring sanity to the dissemination of information on coronavirus.

“We are gravely alarmed at the spread of fake news regarding Covid-19 and are deeply concerned that some persons are arrogating themselves authority to speak on behalf of the government on issues regarding this novel virus.

“We note with concern that some political leaders are seeking to use the cases that have been confirmed positive in Zimbabwe for cheap political mileage at the expense of public good.

“In light of this deluge of misinformation in this day of the social media, we would like to inform the public to rely on credible sources of information regarding health matters. While we welcome input from everyone in the fight against Covid-19, this should be done orderly and not styled in a manner meant to cause alarm and despondency.

“The ministry of Health wishes to advise the public that the country’s existing laws would be used to punish errant members of society who thrive on triggering despondency and disquiet, regardless of the social standing of such persons.

“The President declared Covid-19 a national disaster and we will not hesitate to use appropriate laws at our disposal to protect society from malcontents who seek to score cheap political goals using this novel disease.

“We are also in the process of putting in place regulations around information dissemination,” Moyo said in a statement to the Daily News.

Speaking at the Zanu PF politburo meeting in Harare yesterday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa asked people to disseminate the correct information on coronavirus, adding that all returning residents will be subjected to a strict testing process.

As Mnangagwa’s government steps up efforts to fight the novel pandemic that has killed thousands it gazetted Statutory Instrument 77 (SI 77), which gives the government powers to arrest people who are found breaking the law and also enforcing mandatory testing for suspected coronavirus cases.

“The declaration of Covid-19 as a formidable epidemic disease has effect till the 20th of May, 2020, unless the minister earlier, by general notice in the Gazette, extends these regulations by a further month, and may, upon expiry of that extension, in like manner further extend them for a month at a time,” read part of the gazetted regulations.

Further, the regulations gives the minister power to “direct the making of inquiries into the cause of death of any person, apart from any inquiry by a magistrate under any other enactment; (f) order, when deemed necessary, post-mortem examinations or exhumations; (g) prohibit in special circumstances the burial of any dead body in any local authority except on a certificate by a medical officer appointed to grant such certificates or after compliance with any other specified conditions; (h) regulate the mode of disposal, the times and places of burial of dead bodies and the manner of conducting removals and burials thereof in any local authority; (i) regulate and restrict and, if deemed necessary, prohibit the removal of merchandise or any article or thing into, out of or within any in any local authority or specified or defined area”.

According to the new regulations gazetted on Monday, government will have the right to visit any homes in search of persons who could be infected.

“Any person who — (a) disobeys an order … having been ordered to be detained, isolated or quarantined in any place, removes himself or herself from such detention, isolation or quarantine without the knowledge or consent of an enforcement officer, or contrary to any conditions specified for any temporary release from such detention, isolation or quarantine; shall be guilty of an offence and liable to fine not exceeding level 12 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year to both such fine and such imprisonment.

“Any person who escapes from any place of detention, isolation or quarantine may be arrested without warrant,” read the regulations in part.

According to Veritas, an organisation that gives information on the work of courts and Parliament, anyone found to be in violation of any of the regulations risked paying a fine of $36 000, which is the stipulated figure under Level 12.

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