AT least three security details assigned to Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga tested Covid-19 positive ahead of his trip to Beijing, China, while another was later struck by the virus in the far-flung Asian country, prompting the Chinese authorities to lockdown an upmarket hotel the Zimbabwean leader and his entourage visited, The NewsHawks can reveal.
Chiwenga – who has serious underlying conditions which make him vulnerable to Covid-19 – is in Beijing for medical and official business.
He is also Health minister.
Three cabinet ministers with various underlying conditions, Perrance Shiri (Agriculture), Sibusiso Moyo (Foreign Affairs) and Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza, succumbed to Covid-19-related complications early this year.
The disease also claimed the life of Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Ellen Gwaradzimba.
Zimbabwe is battling a third wave of Covid-19 infections and deaths related to the respiratory ailment. Government has already put in place several restrictions to contain the spread of the disease as statistics show that more people have succumbed to the virus during the current wave compared to previous ones.
The month of July alone has been deadlier than the combined toll from March 2020 to June 2021.
For Chiwenga, any exposure to Covid-19 would be precarious, considering the underlying health conditions he has struggled with over the years.
Chiwenga, who did not attend this Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, flew to China for his routine medical check-up as well as some meetings with officials in that country.
Higher Education minister Amon Murwira is currently the acting Health minister. Information gathered by The NewsHawks shows that between Wednesday and Thursday, security details who were scheduled to accompany Chiwenga underwent Covid-19 laboratory tests at his Kaguvi Building offices in Harare, but were barred from
travelling after testing positive.
In China, his delegation underwent Covid-19 tests and later went to a luxury hotel on Tiananmen Square while awaiting the results.
Tiananmen Square is located in Beijing central business district.
“Someone from the Zimbabwean VP’s delegation tested positive for Covid, which left nearly 400 guests inside the hotel in quarantine,” a source said.
“The hotel, which is on Tiananmen Square, is close to government buildings. For China, which wants to take the lead in fighting Covid which was first reported in the country, the authorities there had to swiftly deal with the incident.”
At a time when Zimbabwe’s health sector has been exposed by the outbreak of the pandemic, Chiwenga, sources said, hired a private jet to China for a medical procedure.
“He was expected to return to Zimbabwe after 10 days, but now with this latest incident, his itinerary may be changed,” another source said.
In February, the Vice-President became the first public official to get the Covid-19 vaccine which was donated by the Chinese.
Chiwenga has also been at the centre of Zimbabwe’s vaccination programme. The southern African country has to date approved the use of Chinese, Russian, Indian and, most recently, the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but most of its vaccines are from China.
Chiwenga, who requires medical attention on his oesophagus, fell seriously ill and was urgently airlifted to China for medical treatment in 2019.
Since then, he has been periodically flying to the Asian country for medical procedures.
Information secretary Nick Mangwana could not be reached for comment as his phone went unanswered.
In January, the Zimbabwean cabinet stopped meeting physically at a time Mnangagwa was on his annual leave and when the country was experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths.
The last time cabinet had met was on 8 December 2020.
This is well before Mnangagwa went on his annual leave from 1 January 2021 to 1 February 2021.
Mnangagwa’s then co-deputies, Mohadi (who stepped down in March after a sex scandal) and Chiwenga alternated as acting president in-between.
Mohadi held fort from 1 January to 14 January, while Chiwenga came in from 15 January to 1 February, although he was hardly visible as he was said to have been “exhausted”.