Victor Maphosa and Elita Chikwati
Police commanders countrywide have been directed to intensify the enforcement of lockdown regulations, resulting in a number of people being turned away from Harare city centre if they failed to present employment exemption letters or medical documents to warrant being outdoors.
Zimbabwe’s total of confirmed cases rose to 2 296 yesterday, with four more deaths, taking the number of fatalities to 32, according to the daily report from the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
The number of new cases was 172, with 152 of them local infections and 79 of these from the Midlands, now a third focus of infection after Bulawayo and Harare. But of these 152 local cases, the source is known in 90.
Both Bulawayo deaths were men with other illnesses. The Harare death is a person testing positive on July 14 and dying from respiratory failure and acute kidney injury on July 17, while the Midlands death was a man with other medical conditions.
Bulawayo remains the hardest hit province with 569 known local infections and 15 deaths, followed by Harare with 283 confirmed infections and 10 deaths and Midlands now with 147 confirmed local infections and three deaths.
South Africa has now confirmed 6 093 deaths from 408 052 confirmed infections.
Police Commissioner General Godwin Matanga yesterday said the intensification of enforcement was designed to protect people from Covid-19 and he warned that those who wilfully breach the regulations face the law.
“My office has directed police commanders to ensure that patrols, roadblocks, checkpoints and awareness campaigns are intensified in all provinces for the security, safety and health of Zimbabweans,” said Comm Gen Matanga.
“Zimbabweans should take note that public gatherings for social activities remain banned as announced by President Mnangagwa. Religious gatherings are to be of 50 or less congregants and be held between 8am and 3pm with strict adherence to World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid-19 protocols.
“May I also caution the public against trying to negotiate or influence officers to allow them to illegally pass through checkpoints as this compromises the integrity of uniformed services and the fight against Covid-19. There will be no excuse for non-compliance.”
He said citizens were reminded to be home by 6pm, adding that there will be no excuses for non-compliance, except for those who will be providing essential services.
Commuter omnibus operators, bottle stores, shebeen operators and anyone else who violates the regulations will be arrested.
Private transporters, especially those that own kombis, have been removing registration numbers or putting private registration number plates so that they carry passengers early morning and in the evening, in contravention of lockdown regulations which indicate that only Zupco buses are allowed to carry fare-paying passengers.
Said Comm-Gen Matanga: “Kombis which are removing number plates and carrying passengers in violation of Covid-19 regulations will be impounded, with the owners facing stern action.”
He called on commercial and manufacturing enterprises including supermarkets, vegetable markets, food retail shops, banks and those in the informal sector with relevant permits to stick to their operating hours of 8am to 3pm to avoid clashes with law enforcement officers.
Yesterday there was low activity in Harare’s city centre as many people deemed not to be providers of essential services or working in ordinary exempted businesses were turned back home.
Some motorists and pedestrians were turned back while some Zupco buses, especially those from Chitungwiza, could not take passengers into the city centre, with passengers being dropped at the Flyover Bus Stop where they underwent rigorous checks.
Simon Mazorodze Road, Seke Road and other major roads leading to the city centre were heavily congested as police thoroughly vetted people.
From mid-morning, some retailers operating in Harare’s downtown area had closed shop, since although exempted few of their customers could get time off work and travelling to the city centre for shopping is not permitted.
However, it was business as usual at most supermarkets as people bought various goods without hassles, while informal
traders in St Mary’s, Chitungwiza, Mbudzi Roundabout and Mbare
Farmers Market, were busy operating, without observing social distance.
Mr Tinashe Muramba of Eyecourt, Harare, praised police for enforcing the lockdown regulations.
“It is good that the lockdown is being taken seriously. The number of Covid-19 cases has increased drastically and now I am realising the disease is real. It is better if we suspend some of the activities to save lives,” he said.
In Mutare, there was increased police presence on roadblocks leading to the city centre, although the volumes of people in the CBD remained high.
Those with exemption letters were allowed into the CBD but long queues at banks were witnessed from morning until after lunch, and in most cases there was no social distancing.
Traffic into supermarkets also remained high.
Manicaland Provincial Covid-19 taskforce chairperson Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba said the high numbers of people moving around was worrisome.
She called on security forces to tighten the enforcement of Covid-19 regulations to eliminate unnecessary movement.
Under lockdown rules gazetted at the end of March, those not working in essential or exempted entities are not supposed to leave home except to shop for food, collect water and seek medical attention, as President Mnangagwa reminded everyone this week.
Under existing rules, everyone must wear masks outside of homes; everyone must be screened when entering public places and buildings; social distancing must be observed; public transport passengers must be screened and sanitised on boarding, with buses disinfected between round trips.