Debra Matabvu and Harmony Agere
SECURITY at designated Covid-19 isolation centres, especially those situated in border towns, is set to be upgraded to prevent quarantined returnees from escaping.
Last night, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Government has been working on a number of measures which include heightening security to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“It has been the Government’s position that security be heightened so that we reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Government is even working on introducing drones so that we increase security measures in border areas,” she said.
The Sunday Mail understands that additional police officers and other security agencies are set to be dispatched to quarantine centres, with border towns, which recorded highest number of escapees, being prioritised.
Government will also ensure test results for returnees are released in the shortest possible time.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Health and Child Care is set to introduce guidelines on how quarantine centres will be managed and protected.
Zimbabwe has 56 isolation centres countrywide.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare chief director Mr Clifford Matorera said security will definitely be beefed up.
“We have not received the additional forces yet, but we are beefing up on security,” he said.
“We will be having additional police at other centres and working closely with other ministries to ensure minimal escapes from the centres.”
More than 118 people have bolted from isolation centres since the lockdown began. Of these, 27 escaped from the National Social Security Authority (NSSA) Hotel in Beitbridge, while five others absconded from Rupangwana Isolation Centre in Chiredzi.Two of the Chiredzi escapees have since been arrested, while three are still on the run.
By yesterday, 23 returning escapees had been arrested.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said additional police officers had already been deployed to 55 Covid-19 isolation and quarantine centres.
He urged the community to report returnees who evade Covid-19 screening processes.
“It is correct that the Zimbabwe Republic Police has tightened security and deployments at 55 Covid-19 isolation and quarantine centres in the country. However, due to security reasons (we) cannot reveal the total number of police officers who have been deployed at the centres,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
Those that will try to evade security checks, he said, will be brought to book.
“We are aware that Government is attending to the challenge of porous fences, lighting systems and some damaged durawalls at some of the centres to enable police officers to provide security effectively,” he said.
“We appeal to the community to put their safety, health and security first, and report all returnees who evade the required Covid-19 screening processes to curtail the spread of the pandemic.”
Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Obadiah Moyo said the new guidelines emphasised security at isolation centres as escapees pose a risk to the entire population and the country’s efforts to contain the virus.
“One thing that we are emphasising is the beefing up of security at all our quarantine centres.
“We are also working on having rapid response test kits that take less time to show results,” said Dr Moyo.
The number of confirmed Covid-19 positive cases jumped to 174 yesterday, with over 87 new cases being recorded from quarantine centres housing returning citizens and residents.
Meanwhile, Government has begun moving with speed to test all returning residents being quarantined in various isolation centres across the country to ensure that they do not stay in the facilities beyond the 21 days stipulated by the law.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima said Government centres were running smoothly.
“I have not received details of the disturbance, but what I can say is that our centres are running quite smoothly,” he said.
“Among other necessities, we are providing food and even clothes when necessary. But, of course, there are some isolated cases where there are emergencies which need urgent attention.”
Government has battled with people escaping quarantine centres since the beginning of the lockdown.
Over the past few weeks, Zimbabwe has received close to 6 000 returnees from around the world, with the bulk being mostly from South Africa and Botswana.