©️ ZIMBABWE today enters a defining moment in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic — which has killed tens of thousands of people worldwide — when the country starts a 21-day national lockdown, the Daily News reports.
This comes as the country is recording rising cases of Covid-19, which claimed the life of prominent broadcaster Zororo Makamba last week — and whose death at Wilkins Hospital in Harare heightened local awareness about the disease.
Ahead of today’s lockdown, fearful citizens queued and scrambled to make last-minute shopping, while authorities and analysts called for calm, unity and discipline.
On their part, police said they were ready to play their role to maintain law and order, and to safeguard the lives and health of all Zimbabweans.
“We are prepared, and we have already put in place our deployment plans. We want the public to comply so that at the end of the day they do not cry foul when they are arrested.
“We have arranged deployments across all the provinces. Police will carry out 24-hour roadblocks.
“People should not loiter in the streets, growth points, gyms, weddings or any other places for that matter,” national police spokesperson Paul Nyathi, told the Daily News.
“Motorists looking for fuel should also not get out of their cars, while funerals should not exceed 50 people.
“We expect the public to comply with the lockdown directive, which is for their safety,” he added.
It also emerged that members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) would help, wherever they are required, to enforce the lockdown.
However, the exact details of how this would work were not available at the time of going to print last night.
Last week, the government introduced more measures that it said would help to combat the spread of coronavirus in the country, including gazetting Statutory Instrument 77 (SI 77) which allows for the arrest of people found breaking the law, while also enforcing mandatory testing for suspected cases.
According to the new regulations, the government will have the right to visit 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 a fine not exceeding level 12 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year.
“Any person who escapes from any place of detention, isolation or quarantine may be arrested without warrant,” the regulations say.
Meanwhile, human rights groups and political analysts, while appealing to ordinary people to heed the lockdown, have also appealed to security forces to refrain from using disproportionate force to ensure compliance over the lockdown period.
“International human rights law, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), requires that restrictions on rights for reasons of public health or national emergency be lawful, necessary and proportionate.
“Restrictions such as mandatory quarantine or isolation of symptomatic people must, at a minimum, be carried out in accordance with the law.
“Actions of the army and police during lockdowns must be lawful, necessary, and proportionate,” Human Rights Watch director for southern Africa, Dewa Mavhinga, told the Daily News.
He also it was the duty of the government to ensure that people had access to water, healthcare and food during the lockdown.
“For example, many older people and people with disabilities rely on uninterrupted home and community services and support.
“Ensuring continuity of these services and operations means that public agencies, community organisations, healthcare providers and other essential service providers are able to continue performing these essential functions to meet the needs of these people.
“Government strategies should minimise disruption in services and develop contingent sources of comparable and alternative services,” Mavhinga added.
On his part, political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said it was important for citizens to take heed of the lockdown measures.
“From a health perspective, I think it’s important that the people comply with the directive that we self-quarantine, comply with the lockdown directive and stay at home as much as possible, and only move when it’s really essential to do so.
“Of course, the challenge that Zimbabwe faces is the question of trust, especially in the use of the military.
“Memories are still fresh that when the military was deployed in the past two years this resulted in very grievous human rights violations, including the deaths of innocent civilians,” Mukundu said.
“At the end of the day, we must agree that any health-related issue such as Covid-19 needs societal co-operation rather than coercion.
“In this regard, the military needs to pull up its socks in terms of its public relations when dealing with communities,” he added.
Last Friday, Mnangagwa said the decision to impose the 21-day lockdown had been made to avoid loss of further lives.
“Covid-19 is upon us and if experience elsewhere is anything to go by, it can spread in leaps and bounds in so short a time.
“We are worried that even though our numbers remain low, there is a possibility of the wider spread in communities.
“Further, in a few months’ time, winter will be upon us, creating conditions ideal for more infections. We should, therefore, take measures ahead of the danger,” Mnangagwa said.
“Starting Monday 30 March and subject to further review, Zimbabwe will be under a total lockdown for a period of 21 days.
“To ensure compliance, I have instructed the command element to deploy, as appropriate, in support of civilian authority,” he said further.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the coronavirus comes from a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.
Its symptoms include pneumonia, high fever, flu, shortness of breath and diarrhoea — and the precautions that have to be taken include covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing, and continuously washing one’s hands.
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