By Winstone Antonio
President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday told travellers from coronavirus hotspots to stay away from Zimbabwe for a month and cancelled independence celebrations and the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair as part of measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease.
He also banned gatherings of more than 100 people and suspended sporting events until further notice, but schools, scheduled to close in a fortnight, will remain open for now.
Borders will also remain open along with the airports without restrictions, but Mnangagwa ordered tighter screening.
“Government has curtailed unnecessary travel outside the country, especially to destinations in countries affected by the virus,” Mnangagwa said yesterday in his address to the nation, where he also declared the virus a national disaster.
“That position remains in force. Travellers from high-risk countries are encouraged to postpone their travel arrangements to Zimbabwe for the next 30 days, starting from March 20, 2020.”
Globally, the virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 7 000 and infected almost 182 000 others, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
WHO last week declared the deadly novel virus a global pandemic after spreading to over 140 countries, 26 of them in Africa.
Neighbouring South Africa has 62 confirmed cases, but no fatalities, and President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster on Sunday.
Zimbabwe has not yet recorded confirmed cases of COVID-19 and so far, all suspected cases have been negative, but the country’s porous borders and lackadaisical screening have triggered fears the virus could easily find its way into the country with a health system compromised by years of neglect, lack of medicine and equipment and regular strikes by doctors and nurses.
It is also still tracing contacts after a United Kingdom tourist who visited Victoria Falls between March 7 and 10 tested positive for coronavirus on return to their home country.
Mnangagwa’s ban on all public gatherings will affect churches and sporting activities, and puts paid to plans by the opposition MDC party, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and civic organisations for a mega protest over his handling of the economy.
“Equally, Zimbabweans are discouraged from travelling to, through and from high-risk countries during the same period. All designated small border crossings will stand closed from now until further notice,” Mnangagwa said.
“With immediate effect and for a unified and co-ordinated effort, I have directed that the national disaster management machinery extends its mandate and focus to dealing with the pandemic, with the Ministry of Health and Child Care as the lead agency.”
Mnangagwa said key bilateral projects in many sectors, mostly transport and infrastructures, have either been slowed down or coming to a complete halt.
“Travel and tourism has taken a knock from curtailed human movements, in our case on the back of two successive droughts. While we have not recorded cases as yet, the economic impact of the pandemic is already being felt, threatening our vision 2030,” he said.
“We have worked out a comprehensive response strategy, buttressed by strong measures which ensure we remain protected and secure as a nation and in step with appropriate measures being taken by the rest of the world.”
“To reduce the likelihood of infections and spread of the coronavirus, government has decided to postpone, curtail or cancel public events, gatherings and activities. In that respect, government has postponed the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, all national independence celebrations previously planned, and pending international sporting fixtures until the threat of coronavirus recedes.”
Added Mnangagwa: “Government has now put all hospitals and health facilities on high alert for COVID-19. Kits and other accessories for screening, handling, testing and treatment continue to be availed. More isolation and treatment centres are being identified, designated and equipped appropriately.
“With immediate effect, all government premises must be equipped for screening procedures. In view that schools are only two weeks away from the end of the first term, government has decided to keep them open, with standard screening precautions being taken daily. Dates for reopening of all schools will be announced, taking into account realities on the ground.”
Mnangagwa said a national communication taskforce on the virus and for disseminating accurate information and raising general national awareness on the pandemic would be immediately constituted.
“Should the situation escalate, government will not hesitate to take further and even more drastic measures for our common good,” he said. NewsDay