By Everson Mushava
President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday broke his own decree banning all public gatherings in excess of 100 people by addressing a rally attended by thousands of supporters in Nyanga, less than 24 hours after he made the refrain to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus which is causing havoc in global markets.
Mnangagwa claimed that his decree would only come into effect tomorrow, but his explanation rang hollow after neighbouring Zambia recorded its first two confirmed cases of the virus and South Africa reported a spike to 116, including 13 community infection cases.
As of yesterday, 27 countries on the continent had reported 576 cases and 15 deaths.
In Zimbabwe, officials reported one new suspected case of the virus at Beitbridge Border Post of a woman from Malawi who was in transit to her home country from South Africa, bringing the number of suspected cases to 15.
The first 14 suspected cases were negative, but international carrier, Emirates, yesterday suspended flights to Harare and Lusaka for 60 days as a precautionary measure.
On Tuesday, Mnangagwa declared a state of national disaster to tackle the possible outbreak by cancelling the 40th Independence Day celebrations, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, sport events and public gatherings of more than 100 people, including church meetings.
He opted to keep schools open, a move criticised by teachers labour unions as unnecessarily placing the school children at risk.
Mnangagwa, who is today expected to launch a coronavirus national preparedness and response plan, said the ban on travellers from coronavirus hotspots would come into effect starting tomorrow, March 20, but the ban on gatherings of over 100 people, sporting events was for the next 60 days, signifying immediacy.
He sought to explain the contradiction at the Nyanga rally after commissioning a pump house at Nyakomba Irrigation Scheme in the same district.
The rally was held at Bumhira Secondary School.
“So now, you have the right to assemble the way you did today. Today (yesterday) is 18, tomorrow (today) 19, and Friday, 20, that is when my decree will be effective,” Mnangagwa said, making a mockery of his own ban.
While Zimbabwe has yet to record a positive test, coronavirus the fast-spreading disease, which originated in Wuhan, China, has now infected over 200 000 people and caused nearly 8 500 deaths in 164 nations, with some countries now under emergency lockdowns only seen during wartime and governments are pledging billions in cash to bail out depressed economies.
Teachers yesterday said government should shut down all schools and institutions of higher learning and called the refrain to remain open an unnecessary risk.
“Schools are the most dangerous places for the spread of any pandemic, moreso given the fact that some schools have an enrolment of more than 2 000 pupils and in the event of a single person getting infected with the virus, the vector spread effect could be so swift given the number of students and various families from which they come from,” Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said.
Civil society organisations also said Mnangagwa should ban use of the Zimbabwe United Passengers Company (Zupco) buses to arrest the possible outbreak of the deadly coronavirus.
The heavily subsidised Zupco buses are often overloaded, with a single bus carrying as many as 150 passengers per trip, and civic society organisations said this would expose many people.
National Consumer Rights Association advocacy and campaign manager Effie Ncube said the risk of people contracting COVID-19 from their loved ones and from gatherings, including the overcrowded Zupco buses, remained very likely despite the cancellation of ZITF and Independence Day celebrations.
Yesterday, there was pandemonium at Beitbridge District Hospital after a female patient exhibiting symptoms of the disease arrived to an unprepared institution.
A visit by Parliament last week at the border post showed a lack of preparedness.
Confirming the case, Matabeleland South provincial medical director Rudo Chikodzore said: “I have received that report and we have sent testing kits to Beitbridge. I do not have a lot of detail now, but will forward it to head office as soon as we are clear.”
Health minister Obadiah Moyo said more than 9 505 travellers had been screened at the country’s ports of entry and 378 put on surveillance.
The National Microbiology Reference Laboratory had tested 14 suspected cases of COVID-19 and said all were negative.
Yesterday, Mutare mayor Blessing Tandi said the council’s infectious hospital was ill-equipped to handle cases of the novel coronavirus as it needed almost US$400 000 to be refurbished.
He said suspected cases would be transported to Wilkins Hospital in Harare.
Chitungwiza Municipality yesterday said it would soon embark on door-to-door awareness campaigns in the wake of the deadly virus. Mayor Lovemore Maiko said the move would be aimed at reducing the risk of infections. NewsDay