The government’s threats to unleash the army to enforce restrictions on movement of people and adherence to World Health Organisation recommendations to control the spread of Covid-19 cannot go unchallenged.
Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe on Friday told journalists that “the law allows the government to call any security institutions if the need arises”.
Previous experience has repeatedly shown that using the army to maintain law and order in Zimbabwe is ill-advised as such deployments often end in gross violations of human rights.
Last year, there were a number of incidents where soldiers deployed to enforce Covid-19 lockdown restrictions tortured civilians for minor offences.
Soldiers are not trained to enforce the law and they should not be burdened with duties they are not familiar with.
The government must be reminded that persuasion rather than coercion works when it comes to fighting pandemics such as Covid-19 because buy- in from ordinary people is paramount.
Instead of thinking about deploying soldiers on the streets, the authorities must beworking on strategies to decongest areas in urban areas that stand out as fertile ground for the spread of the coronavirus.
One area that cries out for urgent attention is the shortage of transport in cities, especially Bulawayo and Harare, where commuters on a daily basis are forced to stampede in order to access the few available Zupco buses.
The government’s determination to establish a Zupco monopoly in the urban transport system has become a serious threat to public health and the policy needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency to save lives.
Thousands of people are exposed to the coronavirus every day as they scramble to board the buses while others are forced to resort to boarding private vehicles where there is hardly any social distancing.
It would not be surprising to hear that some of the outbreaks of Covid-19 in different urban areas across Zimbabwe are linked to the public transport crisis.
Experts warn that the Delta variant of Covid-19 that is believed to be behind the third wave of the pandemic in Zimbabwe and other parts of the world spreads much faster and this means that social distancing needs to be one of the central virus control measures.
The government also needs to intensify awareness campaigns, especially in rural areas, where people need to understand that Covid-19 remains a potent threat and it is a pandemic that is evolving.
There is more to gain in winning hearts than employing brute force to encourage behaviour change.