Gvt in the grip of coronavirus… as civil servants reel from lethal disease

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Mugove Tafirenyika

CHIEF WRITER

tafirenyikam@dailynews.co.zw

THE government has been hit hard by the lethal coronavirus, with more than 1 000 civil servants confirmed to have so far been infected by the disease — as Zimbabwe’s total number of reported Covid-19 deaths and infections continue to soar.

With civil servants who have tested positive for coronavirus being compensated between US$600 and US$1 000 — depending on grade — Public Service deputy minister Lovemore Matuke, pictured, told the Daily News yesterday that 1 305 government workers had so far produced the requisite Covid-19 certificates, making them eligible for the payments.

This comes as the country’s cumulative Covid-19 cases now stand at 18 675 — including 446 deaths as at the end of the day on Thursday.

It also comes as the Public Service Commission has started compensating all infected government employees, including permanent secretaries, after they contracted the disease.

“All civil servants up to permanent secretaries who have tested positive since last year are being paid anything between US$600 and US$1 000 depending on their grades.

“For someone to be eligible for the one-off payment, they must have proof that they were tested and found to be positive.

“Those who do not want to state their Covid-19 status cannot be paid because the only way we can prove that indeed someone tested positive are the results of the test,” Matuke told the Daily News.

He also revealed that the most affected government employees were those working for the ministry of Health — which had 1 000 cases, followed by the ministry of Agriculture with 90, Home Affairs with 53 cases, and the Finance ministry with 40.

The Office of the President and Cabinet had so far recorded 33 cases, while  Local Government, National Housing, Transport, Information Communication Technology, Foreign Affairs and Public Service ministries had 11, 10, 10, 10, nine and nine cases respectively.

Interestingly, the ministries of Defence and Higher Education had not recorded any cases, while other government departments had between one and eight confirmed cases.

However, the secretary-general of the Apex Council, which represents the majority of civil servants, David Dzatsunga, accused the government of being “dishonest” about the number of Covid-19 infected civil servants, as well as “unilateralism” in coming up with compensation figures for affected workers.

“The first thing is that the government is not being truthful to say only about 1 000 civil servants tested positive for Covid-19.

“While we have not yet compiled the total number of our infected members, it is not true to say, for example, that only one official was infected in the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, when we know colleagues who are either ill right now or have since died of Covid-19.

“We are wondering what the government’s motive is in falsifying the numbers,” Dzatsunga told the Daily News yesterday.

“Regarding compensation, we never discussed that with the government. It was a unilateral decision that they made, and as I speak, very few, if any, of our members are aware of it.

“We are actually trying to find out how we can get up to speed with how the compensation is being administered so that we can inform our members,” he further told the Daily News.

On Wednesday, the president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Takavafira Zhou, claimed that more than 50 school heads across the country had tested positive for Covid-19.

“As of yesterday (Tuesday), more than 50 school heads across the country tested positive to Covid-19, while several other teachers and pupils are vulnerable.

“The ministry has not come up with a robust approach to Covid-19, thereby leaving teachers and pupils vulnerable,” Zhou said.

“Indeed, 2020 must best be remembered as a wasted year in terms of starvation wages educators received and the failure to prioritise the health and safety of teachers and pupils. But if anything, 2021 may be worse.

“We, hereby, advise teachers to stay at home and save their lives. There is no life after death and those that require the services of teachers must also invest in their welfare, health and safety. To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” he added.

On his part, the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta), Sifiso Ndlovu, also told the Daily News yesterday that contrary to the government’s figures, many learners and teachers had been infected by coronavirus.

“It cannot be possible that we have only one case in the ministry. Schools are likely to be clusters of spreaders in the wake of what we are witnessing, where several colleagues have tested positive.

“We have a problem given that testing is inadequate and expensive for educators and learners, otherwise if more tests were to be done the figure would be scary” Ndlovu said.

This all comes as authorities have warned that they will take serious measures, including conducting door-to-door raids, if people continue to disregard coronavirus regulations meant to curb the spread of the killer virus in the country.

Addressing the media in Harare on Thursday, Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe also warned that the government would permanently revoke the licences of bars and nightclubs caught violating Covid-19 regulations.

As it is, police have already arrested thousands of people for various breaches of Covid-19 regulations — amid soaring deaths and infections in the country.

“My ministry is concerned with bars, night clubs, restaurants, and other business entities who are operating, yet according to Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021, this is banned.

“I have directed the commissioner-general of police to ensure that the law takes its course on any individual, syndicate or business entity contravening Covid-19 regulations.

“Police officers will move around all suburbs, shopping centres and even check houses to account for transgressions against Covid-19 regulations and other criminal activities,” Kazembe said.

“I urge the public to report to the nearest police station individuals or groups holding parties, musical events or any other gatherings not sanctioned under Covid-19 regulations.

“I am equally disturbed by some shopping centres in some areas in the country which are now known for wild parties, beer drinking binges and all sorts of illegalities. This should stop forthwith.

“Organisers of such events will face the wrath of the law and risk losing their licences. The ministry has also noted with concern, that despite funerals being allowed a maximum of 30 people, this limit is being disregarded by many,” Kazembe added.

“Citizens are urged to observe this regulation. Any violation of this requirement will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

“Let us co-operate with law enforcement officers and contribute towards the government’s efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19 pandemic,” he said further.

The president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina), Enock Dongo, revealed that health workers on the front line were becoming Covid-19 spreaders.

“Health service workers, particularly nurses, have become a danger to the people, instead of being their healthcare providers, because the majority of them, if tested, will return positive results.

“It is only that we are not being tested, probably because the authorities fear that if they do so almost all of us will return positive results, meaning a critical shortage of staff.

“In terms of PPE, we are working with inadequate protection and we have now become one of the biggest sources of the virus,” Dongo told the Daily News.

The country has just started its new month-long and stiffened stay-at-home order, as authorities bid to curb Covid-19’s spread in the country.

The reversion to a hard lockdown has also seen authorities re-introducing a fresh dusk-to-dawn curfew.

In addition, the operations of all businesses — except those providing essential services — were also once again suspended for 30 days, as authorities battle to curb the spread of the lethal disease.

The re-imposed dusk-to-dawn curfew means that people are prohibited from being out and about between 6pm and 6am, except for those providing essential services. In addition, supermarkets now operate from 8am to 3pm.

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