Nqobile Tshili/ Andile Tshuma, Chronicle Reporters
Residents yesterday continued to defy the lockdown order as police arrested 182 people throughout the country for the violations at a time when over 1 000 visitors from countries with confirmed Covid-19 cases are in Bulawayo.
No Covid-19 case has been confirmed in the city.
Countrywide, there are eight confirmed cases and one death.
During Day Three of the lockdown yesterday, more people continued to defy the lockdown order.
Even though Government has said there must be no inter-city travel, scores of hitchhikers were on the country’s highways boarding vehicles leaving Bulawayo.
Some people were catching rides in haulage trucks, especially along the Victoria Falls, Gwanda, Plumtree and Harare highways as there were few cars on the roads and public transportation was scarce.
There was also an increase in the number of vehicles in Bulawayo’s CBD, with scores of people roaming the streets.
At supermarkets and Zesa offices in the CBD, there were long queues as people continued to look for basic commodities and electricity coupons.
Other signs of continued defiance in the city were of people selling fuel from illegal selling points along the streets.
Some youths were spotted in the city taking selfies and looking relaxed, oblivious of the prevailing lockdown. They were hostile when approached by the news crew for interviews.
In Emakhandeni suburb near MaHadebe Beer Garden, a group of men was seen skinning a goat while others were drinking beer outside the confines of their yards, while children played football in the dusty streets of the same township.
More people were seen carrying hoes and some fresh produce suggesting that they were coming from their fields as it is just about harvest time for a lot of families that practice urban farming.
When Chronicle spoke to some people who were seemingly defying the lockdown, most of the responses bordered around boredom and the difficulty of starting a new routine.
In a telephone interview, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Engineer Joel Biggie Matiza said movement from one city to the other remains suspended since the lockdown started on Monday, even for Zupco buses.
He said transporters and members of the public who were travelling to other towns and cities were breaking the law. The Minister, however, said there was nothing that his ministry could do to people found travelling as it was not in his jurisdiction “to chase after people.”
He said the Zupco intercity travel was temporarily suspended for the lockdown period. “As a Ministry, we have suspended all intercity travel for public transporters as a means of ensuring that people adhere to the regulations of the 21-day lockdown. It is unfortunate that people are being defiant, we call on public transporters to abide by these guidelines as we have also suspended the Zupco intercity travel scheme. unfortunately, we cannot do much about defiant people who are going on highways to hike and it is not within my ministry to act on that,” he said.
For the defiance, police said they had arrested 182 people as health experts warn of the catastrophic impact of not abiding by the lockdown.
Yesterday, police said they had noted that some non-essential civil servants are abusing pass letters so that they move aimlessly in violation of Covid-19 mitigation measures.
“The police have so far arrested 182 people for operating shebeens, public drinking, disorderly conduct and committing various traffic offences. Police have also observed aimless movements by motorists with some claiming to be looking for fuel or shopping for basic commodities. Such motorists are advised that the law provides for them to do the shopping at centres within a 5-kilometre radius of their residence,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
He said Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 will be fully employed to arrest anyone violating Covid-19 regulations.
“The police have noted with concern the proliferation of letters from junior employees and staff from various institutions and Government departments/ministries pleading to be allowed to pass through police roadblocks and check points. This compromises efforts to curb the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
“Please take note that, only heads of institutions/departments or senior officials have authority to seek exemptions for members of staff engaged in essential services. Those who want to take advantage and influence the police yet they are not part of the exempted essential service providers will not be entertained.”
He said even those queuing for basic commodities will not be spared from following the laid down Covid-19 guidelines.
Mpilo Central Hospital clinical director Dr Solwayo Ngwenya, said if the public continue defying the lockdown measures, they will lobby Government to impose tougher measures which will keep people at home.
Dr Ngwenya said the public should take seriously measures put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“We urge people to stay at home and there is need for education. Ignorance will lead to a huge number of people dying in Africa, people are ignorant. We may be forced to call for more stringent lockdown measures if people do not want to comply with regulations. We may have to ask Government to put serious measures which will allow very few people to move, making the lockdown even harder than this. We would rather have people being locked down than being sick and dying,” said Dr Ngwenya.
He said what is even worrying for countries such as Zimbabwe are resource constraints.
“We are not going to be able to handle this disease because we are resource constrained. If we look at numbers coming from other countries, they are in winter and we are a few weeks before winter. Once this thing is here, for example we don’t have enough ambulances to go and collect patients,” he said.
Bulawayo mayor Solomon Mguni told a full council meeting yesterday that he was glad that Bulawayo does not have any cases of people who have tested positive to the Covid-19 virus. He said the Emergency Preparedness Team has been active on the ground conducting surveillance, tests and health education.
“The rapid response teams in Bulawayo were activated on the 27th February 2020 when the first rumour was received and we have been making follow ups to date. The number of people who have been followed up under this have been 36, while 21 specimens have been collected with 11 negative and 10 pending (sent between 30 and 31 march 2020). It should be noted that the turnaround time of the national microbiology laboratory has been approximately 48 hours,” said the mayor.
He said the city has also been conducting travellers surveillance from February to March 2020.
“There was a noticeable increase in the influx of travellers reported by the ports of entry from February 498 to March 2020 627. The total number of visitors that have come into Bulawayo from areas with confirmed Covid-19 cases and possibly active local transmission is 1 125. 100 percent of all travellers that came into the country during the month of February 2020 have been followed up at least once and are all asymptomatic (of a condition or a person) producing or showing no symptoms) the list of travellers that came into the country during the month of March 2020 was received at the end of this past week. it has a total of 627 travellers that are currently being followed up by city’s environmental health practitioners,” he said.