As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold globally and threatening to hit our country also, the Government declared the outbreak a state of national disaster exactly 10 days ago.
In terms of the law, such a declaration enables the Government to allocate more resources, even beyond the budget, to tackle an emergency. Also, it opens up avenues for the international community to move in to assist.
President Mnangagwa made that declaration well before any Covid-19 case had been confirmed locally, showing the Government’s commitment to be prepared.
He, too, announced the closure of schools and institutions of higher learning, ordered the closure of bars and recreational facilities and banning gatherings of 50 people or more. He has urged citizens to uphold high hygienic standards and adhere to social distancing. He has ordered the closure of borders to human traffic although they remain open for cargo.
The Government has put in place all these measures and more in an effort to get its systems ready, just in case more cases than the three we had by yesterday afternoon, are confirmed. We are delighted that citizens are, by and large, embracing the measures with the private sector also playing a very essential role, a role which we hope and pray would be maintained.
Indeed, the private sector is getting involved in a number of ways. We have seen companies running advertisements giving people tips on how they can prevent infection with coronavirus, the pathogen that causes Covid-19. Some are distributing essentials such as gloves, hand sanitisers and surgical masks while others are making sure that their clients — who are the general public — sanitise their hands as they walk into their premises for business. Many companies are complying with the Government’s social distancing call by making some of their employees work from home so as to reduce numbers at the normal workplace.
On Monday, a Bulawayo detergents manufacturer, Tierra Chemicals, announced it had joined the fight against the spread of the disease by scaling up production of alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
Green Fuel, a much larger company whose business is sugarcane growing and ethanol production, has just started producing hand sanitisers. We have known most hand sanitisers to be alcohol-based, but Green Fuel’s would be ethanol-based. Furthermore, the company has pledged to donate some of the product to the Government for onward distribution to health service centres nationwide.
Yesterday our Harare Bureau reported that Sakunda Holdings and the Trauma Centre had stepped in too. Facilities at St Anne’s Hospital and Arundel Hospital in Harare and Ekusileni Medical Centre in Bulawayo are earmarked for use in the event that public health facilities fall short. In Victoria Falls, residents have already resolved to pool resources to set up an isolation centre.
“Private companies are coming in a big way,” Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo told ZTN on Wednesday.
“A lot of private companies want to be part of the team. We are going to roll out the plan in very province. Our infrastructure committee will look at it.”
That the private sector is getting involved in providing information and education material, consumables and infrastructure like hospitals deserves much praise, particularly given the economic challenges they and the rest of the country, are already facing.
Elsewhere, across the globe private companies are supporting their governments to fight Covid-19. Just a few days ago, the British government hailed the striking of a major deal with private health care providers by making available 20 000 more staff, 8 000 hospital beds as well as at least 1 200 ventilators. In the US on Monday, Fiat began converting one of its car plants in China to start making about one million masks a month. American car makers General Motors, Ford and Tesla have all pledged their support to offer resources to make more ventilators, along with Japanese carmaker Nissan and Formula 1 teams in the UK.
Many more companies could be contributing in other countries that are fighting against the infection. That is great.
Green Fuel, Econet, Sakunda Holdings, the Trauma Centre, Tierra Chemicals and others are playing a commendable role as responsible corporate citizens. In our view, this important role goes beyond their conventional corporate social responsibility activities for we are talking here about an enormous public health threat which we can only curb if every citizen — human or corporate, the Government and development partners, play their part.
But the curbing we want, and are praying for, is one that will result in that cooperation effectively forestalling an outbreak of Covid-19 beyond the cases we have so far in the country.