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Public disregards corona measures… as it continues to be business as usual for many people, churches

Tarisai Machakaire,Blessings Mashaya and Shamiso Dzingire

THERE are concerns that many Zimbabweans may not be taking the deadly coronavirus seriously, with some people and churches still behaving as if it’s business as usual, the Daily News reports.

As a result, there are calls for authorities to introduce more stringent measures to prevent the country from being badly affected by the lethal virus, now that it has landed on local shores.

When a Daily News crew moved around Harare and Bulawayo yesterday, it found that it was business as usual for many people and churches — who went about their usual routines as they usually do, and also gathered in large numbers despite the advent of the disease.

This comes as Zimbabwe has reported two confirmed cases of people who have contracted the coronavirus, following their visits to countries that have been seriously affected by the pandemic.

As part of measures aimed at avoiding the spread of Covid-19, the government announced a raft of measures last week which included ordering people not to congregate in large numbers, the early closure of schools, scrapping this year’s independence celebrations and postponing the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF).

However, and notwithstanding all these measures, some churches were still teeming with people in the country’s two biggest cities yesterday, while crowds at commuter omnibus termini and flea markets were larger than the prescribed numbers.

This prompted health, rights and consumer groups to warn people that this disconcerting conduct — coming at a time coronavirus has killed more than 13 000 people globally — could lead to a spike in the number of locals infected by the deadly disease.

“Both authorities and the general public need to take coronavirus very seriously. We have already seen its devastating impact in China and Europe.

“The government should scale up its public health responses in a rights-respecting manner by ensuring that the public has access to critical information, while also ensuring that quarantines, travel bans, and lockdowns are complied with,” Human Rights Watch director for southern Africa, Dewa Mavhinga, said.

The president of the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ), Tafadzwa George Goliati, also said it was clear that much still had to be done to make transporters and ordinary people take the coronavirus threat more seriously — further calling upon authorities to enforce the announced bans.

“Transport owners are not doing much to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Even in shops, many retailers are also doing nothing.

“We want limited numbers in buses. There should also be no over-loading, and standing passengers must not be allowed.

“We want owners of public transport to ensure that they provide hand sanitisers and there must also be public awareness of the coronavirus so that people who use the public transport know exactly what is supposed to be done,” Goliati said.

“The issue of public transport is going to cause the spread of coronavirus if not managed well. People don’t know much about this disease,” he added.

Indeed, the government-run ZUPCO buses — for example — were plying their normal routes as usual, and still packed to the rafters.

The disturbing sight of the overloaded buses and other vehicles ran contrary to the necessary social distance practices that are being preached about — raising fears that many people are oblivious to Covid-19 and the toll it has taken on many people and nations.

The situation in and around both Harare and Bulawayo was not helped by the hundreds of vendors still manning flea markets in places such as the central business district — many of whom openly declared that it was better to perish from coronavirus than hunger.

“It’s difficult for us to comply with social distancing measures to prevent coronavirus because we will lose customers.

“No one is going to stop us from coming to work,” one of the vendors at the popular Mupedzanhamo market in Harare said.

At many bus termini, it was also business as usual — with commuters packing the places and queuing closely for Zupco buses and commuter omnibuses.

A survey conducted by the Daily News in Harare and Bulawayo at the weekend also showed that it was business as usual for many churches, who held normal Sunday services, including those for Apostolic congregants.

Analysts canvassed by the Daily News yesterday said the spread of coronavirus would increase if authorities failed to take action to end the gathering of people in large numbers.

“It’s very unfortunate that the public are not taking this global pandemic seriously. Whilst religious and scientific explanations often seem like incompatible, there is need to see them as complementary.

“Defying national orders in the face of a pandemic may simply contribute to the worsening of the situation.

“The public must pause, reflect and digest what is happening in other countries before continuing with public gatherings,” Namibia-based scholar Admire Mare said.

“The government has law enforcement officials to implement its decrees and orders, but more importantly, churches must embrace other platforms like TV and Zoom live streaming services.

“There are so many platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and radio for organising virtual church services.

“These will assist in buttressing the idea of social distancing and self-isolation,” Mare added.

On his part, police spokesperson Paul Nyathi said they were monitoring the situation and would mount patrols to enforce compliance.

“We are monitoring the situation. Members of the public are encouraged to comply with measures which were put in place to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

“Public gatherings must not have more than 100 people and churches must also follow this,” he said.
The secretary general of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), Reverend Kenneth Mtata cautioned churches from having large gatherings.

“I do not see a problem if they are less than 100 according to the government’s directive.

“In our view, creating distance is not obedience to the president, but it is actually acting responsibly to contain the spread of the disease.

“This should be taken seriously. So far, members of the ZCC have complied,” Mtata said.

Zimbabwe recorded its first and second cases of coronavirus at the weekend after two men tested positive to the disease following their recent travels to Britain and the United States respectively.

This comes as health experts and local authorities remain apprehensive about dealing with the pandemic.
According to the 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 your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and continuously washing one’s hands.

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