POLICE backed by armed soldiers yesterday stopped thousands of Zimbabweans without permits from entering the central business districts (CBDs) of Harare, Bulawayo and other towns across the country.
This comes as the country’s coronavirus death toll has risen in the past few days, forcing authorities to tighten the 21-day lockdown that was imposed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa last month — following a slip in the discipline by many people.
Yesterday’s tight security also came as Mnangagwa is coming under pressure to follow the example of regional power and Zimbabwe’s biggest trading partner, South Africa, by extending the current lockdown by at least two weeks.
Police national spokesperson, Paul Nyathi, told the Daily News yesterday that security forces had stepped up their efforts to ensure compliance, having noticed growing complacency and disregard for the lockdown by many people.
“We have stepped up lockdown measures after seeing that the public was disregarding some of the safety and security guidelines.
“What the security services are doing now is to ensure that the public complies, so that efforts to curb coronavirus succeed.
“All this is being done to ensure that the public stays safe. This is why people must comply and co-operate,” Nyathi said.
“On the issue of exemptions, we have realised that some people are abusing this facility. As a result, we are stepping up efforts to make sure that compliance regulations are not transgressed.
“We will communicate in due course when the current operation will end, but we encourage members of the public to comply without the need to be prompted.
“What the security services are doing is to ensure that efforts by government to curb the virus succeed in the interest of all Zimbabweans,” Nyathi added.
Yesterday’s operation by the police and the army caught many motorists and public transport providers by surprise — with members of the security services generally in an uncompromising mood, as they turned back hordes of people.
This largely welcome development came a day after Mnangagwa had told the nation that security would be increased during the Easter holidays, as part of the government’s efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
In his Easter message, Mnangagwa — who quoted several Bible verses as he rallied Zimbabweans — said the police and the army were now mandated to enforce compliance with the 21-day lockdown.
“I am aware that in the past, the Easter holiday season would see most families, friends as well as worshippers gather together to remember the gift of eternal life given to us by God through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
“Sadly, this will not be possible this holiday, as we continue to observe the essential lockdown we instituted to prevent the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
“I urge us all to continue to stay at home as well as practising good hygiene and observing social distance,” Mnangagwa said.
“Meanwhile, our security arms will be intensifying their patrols to ensure compliance and to curb the movement of both pedestrians and vehicles,” he added.
All this comes as Zimbabwe registered its third death from coronavirus this week, from the 11 people who have so far tested positive for the deadly disease — a development which has made the country’s Covid-19 mortality rate among the highest in the world, at 27 percent.
At the same time, there are growing fears that the absence of enough rapid testing kits in the country places Zimbabwe’s ability to contain the virulent disease in jeopardy.
On its part, the government has admitted candidly that it is facing challenges with its coronavirus testing kits, with most of its stocks defective.
The government has since launched an urgent local and global appeal for financial and material aid to combat the spread of coronavirus in the country, following the surge in the death toll from the pandemic.
On Friday, doctors met Mnangagwa in Harare and told the 77-year-old Zanu PF leader that Zimbabwe needed to test people aggressively, if the country is to succeed in containing the deadly virus.
“We need to have a lot of (coronavirus) testing in the country to ascertain the correct number of people infected by the pandemic.
“This will help us to adequately direct resources to where they are needed most. If they (health professionals) work without knowledge, they will themselves be exposed to the pandemic.
“Imagine how exposed were the people who associated with the Bulawayo man whose results only came after his death,” Christopher Samkange, a member of the Zimbabwe Medical Association (Zima) taskforce, told Mnangagwa.
“On treating this infectious disease, we should not only rely on Wilkins Hospital, but there is also need to equip other central and provincial hospitals across the country.
“We recommend the use of Parirenyatwa in Harare and United Bulawayo Hospitals … to be used in the Covid-19 fight, as they have facilities designed to deal with infectious diseases,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa is under pressure to consider extending the lockdown, to allow more testing of people and prevent many citizens from catching the virus.
This comes after Mnangagwa himself appeared to suggest on Thursday that it was something that he would give his attention to, although his answers left many people unsure about where exactly he stood on the matter.
“We are at different levels in terms of the lockdown in the region, but I cannot tell you whether at the end of the 21 days we are going to lift the lockdown.
“I only appeal that all of us observe the lockdown and observe the laws so that way we save lives,” he said during his meetings with various stakeholders at State House.
However, this was before South African President Cyril Ramaphosa extended his country’s lockdown by a further two weeks, to the end of April.
It was also before Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi announced further measures which resulted in the closure of all the country’s borders for six months.
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 diarrhea — and the precautions that have to be taken include covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and continuously washing one’s hands>chaosafrica