Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa has extended the Covid-19 national lockdown to May 3 as part of the Government’s broad response to the rising number of cases in the country.
The lockdown which started on March 30, was meant to expire at midnight yesterday.
Zimbabwe has so far recorded 25 confirmed Covid-19 cases and three deaths.
Addressing the nation yesterday, President Mnangagwa said the extension was unavoidable as the country is yet to meet the conditions for lifting the lockdown that were recently set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) among which are the capacity by the health system to test, isolate, treat and trace every contact.
He said extending the lockdown was necessary to prepare for worse times which are likely ahead.
The President said the Government has always been conscious of the huge costs which come with a total national lockdown to the economy and livelihoods of families but nothing is more important than saving life.
President Mnangagwa said the country is facing a new situation where more of the country’s citizens are coming back home, including from countries heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic which presents an unavoidable, but growing threat to the nation as it accommodates all our returning citizens.
“As I have already indicated, worldwide cases of infections continue to gallop, with the World Health Organisation counselling against relaxing lockdowns adopted by almost all countries of the world. Guided by these realities, and to allow ourselves greater leeway to prepare for worse times which are likely ahead, Government has decided to extend with immediate effect the National Lockdown by 14 days,” he said.
“That means the National Lockdown which would have expired at midnight stands extended by another two weeks up to 3rd May, 2020. Government has reviewed the situation obtaining in the country, around us in the region and worldwide.”
The President also announced that the nation would upscale testing, so that more people can be tested for coronavirus.
Zimbabwe is targeting to test about 40 000 people by the end of this month.
President Mnangagwa said the decision to extend the lockdown was unavoidable.
He said in arriving at that decision, Government took into account the few cases which had already hit the country as well as the global spread of the virus which continues to swell at an alarming rate daily.
“It has been a very hard decision my Government has had to take reluctantly. But it has been a necessary and unavoidable decision in the circumstances in which we find ourselves in. We need to maintain the same level of national and self-restraint, as we have shown in the three weeks which have gone by, all in the interest of our nation and of ourselves individually,” he said.
The President also made some adjustments allowing limited mining and manufacturing activities to resume.
“Government is acutely aware of the need to keep the economy running, albeit at subdued levels. With this objective in mind, Government has decided to allow the mining sector to resume or scale up operations, even then within parameters set by the World Health Organisation regarding social distancing and other public health safety measures,” he said.
“I have now directed the Ministries of Health and Child Care, and that of Mines and Mining Development to work closely to ensure the workforce in the mining sector is immediately screened and tested ahead of resuming operations. Further, to the extent possible I have directed that workers in the mining sector remain within the precincts of their accommodation at workplaces for the duration of the lockdown.”
Essential services will continue as before, operating within designated times and parameters as already announced. The President said the Department of Social Welfare has started rolling out support schemes and measures targeting vulnerable families throughout the country. “These measures which include cash disbursements will be fine-tuned and intensified so needy families are supported throughout the period of the national lockdown. Our Security Arms will step in to assist, including facilitating essential movements of our citizens during this difficult period,” he said.
“Today as I address you, more than 2, 3 million people have been infected worldwide with Covid-19, with at least 160 000 having succumbed to the disease. Our continent of Africa has reported more than 18 000 cases, with 348 deaths having been recorded,” he said.
“Coming to our own country, we have witnessed a spiking of infections from single digits to the current 25, with three of our loved ones already dead,” said President Mnangagwa. “Apart from this growing number of infections, we are deeply worried that the virus is beginning to attack our children, with more and more cases coming from local transmissions. Clearly the numbers are rising, and will soon gallop uncontrollably once we reach the deadly mark of 100, after which the grim multiplier effect kicks in.”
The President noted that once the cases begin to grow exponentially, the strain on the country’s health facilities would be huge. He said there was a need for the country to do its best and ensure the pandemic levels are low and manageable in numbers.
“Indeed, we should treat the current small numbers of infections as a window of opportunity to tighten our collective national defences, while providing for the worst-case scenario of a full-blown health crisis. This, your Government has, and continues to do, within the limited means and constraints it has,” said President Mnangagwa.
“From the very beginning, we have always known that a national lockdown cannot be the cure, the solution. Rather, it merely buys time for us to slow down transmissions, while we take other measures and prepare on many fronts, to cope and deal with the pandemic.”
President Mnangagwa said if carried out successfully, the country’s strategy in fighting Covid-19 would become the exit strategy from the engulfing danger and the painful measures which this danger has necessitated.
“Let me emphasise that the national lockdown cannot, in itself, be the strategy nor can it last forever. Our national strategy must be founded on, firstly, levelling the pandemic by arresting its spread in the immediate. While we do that, we should take measures that place us ahead of infections so we hold the disease at bay, while a cure and vaccines are being found and developed respectively,” he said.
The Government has now embarked upon expanded tests covering the whole country to allows authorities to gauge the magnitude of the problem, while promptly isolating cases early enough from the onset of the virus, and before more and more people are infected through contact or community transmissions.
President Mnangagwa said Government will avail more test kits to several centres countrywide so that every citizen is within reach of testing services.
“With time and before long, all our health institutions, right down to small, remote rural clinics, must become testing centres. It also means we have to increase our laboratories countrywide, to ensure results of expanded tests come soon enough to allow for timeous interventions,” he said. “We thus need a competent cadre across the whole health value chain. This means more recruitments, more specialised training and retraining so our hardworking health workers know how to play their part in the fight against Covid-19, without putting themselves in harm’s way.”
The President said there is a need to account for all persons who would have come in contact with all infected persons.
He said health institutions were being repurposed to handle the pandemic with the number of beds for Covid-19 cases set to be increased in anticipation of increased infections. He said there is a compelling need to flatten and then arrest the infection curve as well as raising the line of tests through expanded testing.
“We must see more Covid-19 recoveries so our health institutions are not overburdened”, he said.
The President said in respect of the country’s manufacturing sector, he has directed that limited operations resume in the national interest under supervision to ensure public health safety measures are strictly adhered to.
“This reprieve covers our manufacturers in our informal sector and SMEs as well, who have to use these two weeks to rebuild their capacities and stocks. The responsible Ministry is also directed to work closely with the Health authorities to ensure there is order and safety in that sector so critical to livelihoods,” he said.
President Mnangagwa said Government will continue to explore ways of mitigating the impact of the lockdown on all businesses so that the economy recovers more rapidly after the pandemic. — @mashnets