The Level Four National Lockdown has beaten back the second wave, largely because the Government moved early enough, and was prepared to enforce the necessary restrictions, although most people were, as infection and death rates rose, sufficiently concerned to co-operate.
Indeed as soon as the daily statistics showed that it was not a spiky blip on the graph, but something far more serious, the Government stepped in with a return to Level Four, and then extended it by another two weeks when it was obvious that while a lot of progress had been made, the danger levels were still too high for any relaxation.
But at the end of the first six weeks of the year, Zimbabwe had far lower infection rates than on New Year’s Day, about 60 percent of the starting rate and just 11 or so percent of the peak rate when we look at the seven-day rolling average that establishes trend lines and takes into account delays in reporting or bunching of tests.
Even the recovery rate was higher, about 5 percent higher, meaning the vast majority of those who had fallen sick in the second wave were better with far more chances of getting well each day than falling sick each day.
The number of active cases, that is people who are infected and are mostly getting better, was around a third of the peak, which Zimbabwe’s health system had coped with because of the swift action to upgrade the lockdown.
Death rates were still lagging, as these tend to follow around 10 days behind the infection rates.
A major factor in the success of the lockdown was the compliance by the vast majority of Zimbabweans with the basic precautions of masking, social distancing, good personal hygiene and minimising movement.
This was not perfect as police arrest and fine figures show, but at least after the first week, it was several times higher than what we had seen in the last two months of last year as people became complacent.
Police enforcement is needed to remind the careless and those who simply do not care that personal responsibility is required, but it is impossible for the police to patrol every street and be on every corner. People need to follow the rules because they recognise that they are there for their own good. And with the seriousness of the second wave, over 21 000 new infections and over 1 000 new deaths, we did recognise this.
Those having to move around for work purposes in essential service noted that others on the streets were masked, and were not wearing them round their necks and only pulling them up when they saw a cop, which is not much use. The Government over the day or two now has to make a final decision on whether it can adjust the level of lockdown, and if so by how much and when.
There is a real need to allow more economic activity, since despite the efforts to provide basic survival allowances to those stopped from earning a living, there is a lot of suffering along with the need of many families to now buy at least the odd item that is not in a food shop or a pharmacy.
The Government is aware of those needs and has spoken of them several times during the lockdown, saying the only reason for a tight lockdown is the need to save lives, a lot of lives.
There is probably now some room for relaxation, although we doubt that any public health expert can live with a return to the situation we saw in December.
To some extent, relaxation of levels relies on how far people will remain co-operative. Large swathes of commerce could be re-opened with only moderate risk if shopkeepers, customers and everyone else worked very hard to minimise infections.
You get shops that enforce rules, such as all customers must be masked and in smaller shops say only three or four customers at a time, so there is automatic social distancing.
As a business gets bigger then temperature scanners can be bought and used. But you also had shops that did not care very much. Any relaxation must mean everyone cares.
Even the SME and informal sector can be reopened, at least in part. There are formal markets, such as Gulf and the Old Mutual Eastgate Market, that were well run in the earlier levels with a single entrance and a single exit, along with temperature scans, the bottle of sanitiser and the enforcement of masking. Several flea market owners were equally responsible.
Even the illegal vendors varied. Some wore masks and spaced themselves out, but some did not. So any resumption of commerce does require a consensus that the personal precaution rules remain and shopkeepers and market owners can throw out customers who do not obey them and can call in the police to help. In other words a Level Two lockdown is still a lockdown and voluntary submission to lockdown rules, backed by police enforcement, is required.
On the social side, the pressure is lower. No one is going to lose sleep, let alone suffer any economic problems, if parties are banned and there remains a severe and enforced curfew. Social gatherings are fun, brighten our lives. But it was the same social gatherings that proliferated in December for the festive season that triggered the second wave.
There are many reasons to open up more swathes of the economy, but appear to be few to allow gatherings. As life must go on, weddings could be permitted, but with just the five people needed for a legal civil or church wedding or the six needed for a valid customary union. The party and reception can come later, when life returns to normal.
President Mnangagwa stressed last week that life can only return to normal when a substantial majority of Zimbabweans are vaccinated, and while that process will start soon it will take many months to work its way through the population.
So as we, and our Government, have to choose our priorities, it seems sensible to make the first priority to getting the closed sectors of the economy functioning again, under tight controls and following lockdown rules, then looking at schools, again very carefully although these were not the focus of second wave infection since they did follow rules, and leave the socialising, the parties and the gatherings, which add vast risk for little gain, for another time.