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Govt has no strategy beyond lockdown

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PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has no comprehensive Covid-19 plan beyond the strict 30-day lockdown triggered by a recent spike in cases, spelling trouble in the health sector for his broke administration, analysts say.

NYASHA CHINGONO
Analysts say government has not been convincing in reassuring the public that there is a plausible plan to increase testing and possibly administering a vaccine to save millions at risk of contracting the infectious virus.

Zimbabwe was on Tuesday plunged into another lockdown, with most informal economic activities grinding to a halt amid misgivings by the poor who have often complained of neglect and lack of a cushioning allowance during the lockdown where most fail to put food on the table.

Announcing the 30-day lockdown, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga (pictured), who is also the Health minister, failed to articulate a comprehensive Covid-19 response strategy beyond reading out lockdown commandments.

This comes at a time the country’s referral hospital are overwhelmed by the number of Covid-19 patients, desperate to survive amid a shortage of equipment to deal with the virus. While government spokesperson Nick Mangwana admitted that the virus could overrun the health sector, the government’s plan has only been limited to restricting movement.

Under the new lockdown measures, Zimbabweans are expected to stay at home, except essential service providers, while a stringent dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed, followed by the deployment of security personnel to deal with any Covid-19 violators. The informal sector will be forced to stay at home with no income.

The government, which has been lagging behind on testing and devising strategies to protect the population, has no testing plan during the new 30-day lockdown.

Despite various warnings from health experts of a potentially catastrophic surge in cases, the government has exhibited lethargy in ensuring mass testing and dealing with faulty testing.

Slightly more than 3 000 lab tests are done daily according to the Ministry of Health statistics, a far cry from what other Sadc countries have done for their populations.

While the mutant strain of Covid-19 has not been felt in Zimbabwe like in neighbouring South Africa, a sudden upsurge in cases could grind the limping health sector to a halt. Analysts say the government’s failure to judiciously plan for testing and setting up structures to fight this virus could be deadly for the country reeling from a myriad of economic problems.

Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza says government has been haphazard in its response strategy and criticised Mnangagwa’s administration of failing to come up with unique intervention mechanisms to fight Covid-19.

“We have been teasing Mnangagwa as Ramakhopa because his government tends to echo what South Africa does. The response has been haphazard, there is no rationality,” Mandaza said.
“He portrays lack of policy on Covid, the most confused.”

Mandaza said government had no Covid-19 plan, criticising the militaristic strategies of dealing with the pandemic.

“There is nothing beyond treating the country like a military barrack. There is no attempt to engage citizens. The latest lockdown is too harsh, especially on the poor. It is antanti-poor. How do they survive?” Mandaza asked.

A professor of world politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Stephen Chan, weighed in, saying the government needs to reassure citizens of a comprehensive plan to deal with surging cases, while protecting the unaffected population.

“The government needs to reassure the citizens it has a Covid-19 plan beyond lockdown. It needs to say it has a vaccination policy and plan,” Chan said.

Chan said Zimbabweans should ask tough questions regarding the availability of a vaccine and hold government to account on a plan going forward.

“Since it is likely Zimbabwe will use the Chinese vaccine, the government should give a timeline as to its expected availability. The government needs to reassure Zimbabweans that its relationship with China is secure. Although the West will make some vaccines available, it will be after distribution has occurred in the West and only China can provide mass vaccinations. So, the questions are: what are the plans and what is the timeline?” he said.

Cracks have also emerged in the way the government has dealt with the pandemic, with analysts saying Mnangagwa and his team of ministers should lead by example in issues of adherence to Covid-19 rules.
While government maintains that all public gatherings, including political events, are banned, Mnangagwa and his party Zanu PF continue to flout regulations.

Mnangagwa held a packed rally in Chivi late last year, drawing criticism, after Chiwenga suspended by-elections to elect members of the National Assembly.

With little or no social distancing, Zanu PF supporters thronged the rally venue in their thousands.
In December, Zanu PF held the District Coordinating Committee (DCCs) elections which attracted thousands of supporters.

MDC-T, which has received preferential treatment from the government, also held its extraordinary congress at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC) with little social distancing. Party leader Thokozani Khupe, who was ousted at the dramatic event, later tested positive for Covid-19.

This has been an indictment on Mnangagwa and his administration for lack of sincerity in enforcing lockdown rules. In fact, the Mnangagwa administration has used Covid-19 restrictions as a political tool.

The selective application of law is expected to continue in the fresh lockdown, amid concerns of human rights violations.

While police have arrested Zimdancehall producers Fantan and Levels who were behind the Matapi dancehall concert on New Year’s eve, several top businesspeople and government officials also flouted Covid-19 rules without facing punishment.

The dancehall gig was held a few metres from Matapi Police Station. Several house parties across the city were held over the holiday but only a few have been arrested flouting Covid-19 rules. Government officials took to social media to justify Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa’s birthday celebrations which were held with no social distancing or mask wearing late last year.

Failure by the government to apply the law equally among the citizens has the potential to engender public contempt for important lockdown rules which are meant to save lives.

The government should come up with a comprehensive strategy beyond the lockdown, detailing how it intends to deal with the coronavirus, seeing the country is at risk of mass infection, analysts say.

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