ZIMBABWE yesterday moved back into a stringent national lockdown after authorities stepped in to swiftly curtail the recent spike in Covid-19 cases, imposing an immediate ban on public gatherings and inter-city movement.
The Government announced an all-night curfew which runs between 6pm and 6am, and the closure of most non-essential and informal businesses for at least 30 days starting this Tuesday.
Zimbabweans have been asked to stay at home and will only be allowed to leave to purchase food and medical supplies.
Announcing the new measures at a media briefing in Harare last night, Vice President Dr Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the Minister of Health and Child Care, said the surge in the number of new infections had prompted the Government to act.
Zimbabwe recorded 1 342 cases of the coronavirus and 19 deaths over the festive season, with the number of new infections and deaths nearly doubling over the last two months.
VP Chiwenga said Government had intensified surveillance, testing and patient care throughout the country.
“In light of the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, the following stiff lockdown measures are being put in place with immediate effect,” said the VP.
“Gatherings are reduced to not more than 30 people at all funerals. All other gatherings at weddings, churches, bars, bottle stores, gymnasiums, restaurants are banned for 30 days.”
He said the existing Covid-19 preventive health measures will be strictly enforced, while those who ignore the restrictions will be prosecuted.
“Only essential services are to remain open such as hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets, with only essential staff allowed to come to work. These services can only open at 8am and must close at 3pm and will be subject to curfew that will start at 6pm and end at 6am.”
VP Chiwenga said all formal businesses and registered informal traders will suspend operations starting on Tuesday for the next 30 days.
Cross border trading has been suspended, with only vehicles transporting essential services allowed to pass through the country’s ports of entry.
Operators in the mining, manufacturing and agriculture sectors will be exempted from the new measures.
Restaurants, bottle stores and bars have been banned from operating for 30 days, with the exception of those serving hotel guests.
“Other commercial services specified on Part 5 of the lockdown order, that is to say all formal businesses and registered informal traders, are suspended from Tuesday January 5, 2021 for 30 days.
“Inter provincial and intercity transport services are restricted only to essential services and Part 4 commercial services (mining, manufacturing and agriculture).
“People must stay at home save for buying food and medicines or transporting sick relatives.
“Other exceptions are as specified in the lockdown order.
“As for schooling only examination classes are to open now.
“Cross border traders are stopped forthwith save for commercial and transit cargo related to essential and critical services,” said VP Chiwenga.
“Air transportation remains unhindered and will continue as before with arrivals and returning residents being required to present Covid-19 free certificates.
“As for land access, only returning residents and essential service drivers will be admitted subject to presentation of Covid-19 free certificates.
“These certificates must have been issued at least 48 hours before departure.”
Tourist facilities and national parks will operate subject to prescribed health precautions.
A new threat
The Government is investigating whether a new Covid-19 variant, which is reportedly more contagious, could be behind the recent surge.
Authorities are testing samples from Covid-19 positive patients in order to ascertain whether they were infected by the new strain.
Vice chairman of the Ad Hoc Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19, Professor Amon Murwira, said: “As Government we have started the testing for the variants and anticipate that the results will be released soon.”
Hospitals under strain
The country’s main Covid-19 referral health institutions have been overwhelmed by patients requiring hospitalisation over the last few weeks.
Parirenyatwa Group Hospitals chief executive Dr Aspect Maunganidze said an increase in the number of Covid-19 patients at the institution was stretching the hospital’s capacity.
“The hospital has capacity to take more Covid-19 patients but is currently mobilising more staff for the sudden extra workload because there has been a huge influx of patients with Covid-19 over the last few days,” Dr Maunganidze said.
“Out of the 425 Covid-19 dedicated beds, the hospital is only able to use about 100 beds for Covid-19 care. This includes beds in ICU, High Dependency Units, general wards and the screening ward (PUI).
“Once we boost our staff compliment for Covid-19 treatment, we will be able to absorb more patients.”
As of yesterday, Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital had 15 Covid-19 patients and little room to cater for more patients.
Director of Health at the Harare City Council, Dr Prosper Chonzi, said the city was having challenges with shortages of medical oxygen.
“At Wilkins we have 15 patients who are stable and the hospital has the capacity to take in more patients,” he said.
“There is also more space at Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital. However, our biggest challenge is oxygen so we are only able to take in patients that do not need to be on oxygen continuously.”
Cases of Covid-19 rose from 8 374 on November 1 to 14 491 as of yesterday.
There have been 377 deaths since March.