By Vusumuzi Dube and Bruce Ndlovu
The total lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 will start at midnight with the Government passionately calling on citizens to comply with the directive and instructions from security personnel deployed to enforce the law.
This comes as thousands of residents across the country yesterday swamped retail shops and other essential service providers to stock groceries and other necessities ahead of the lockdown.
President Mnangagwa on Friday announced that the country will go into a 21-day lockdown to manage the pandemic which is spreading and killing thousands of people globally.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Mr Nick Mangwana told Sunday News yesterday that the lockdown will come into effect at midnight today.
“The date of the lockdown is 30 March 2020, this means it will start at 00:00 hours on Monday morning, the same way you celebrate New Year at midnight of the New Year’s Eve is the same way we start at midnight,” said Mr Mangwana.
He said during the lockdown all supermarkets would be open to ensure that the food value chain is functional.
Mr Mangwana also said journalists would be allowed to operate to ensure that the country is kept up to date with information.
“There are essential services like the media that have a major role to play of informing the public,” he said.
Workers manning other essential services, including health services and outlets, as well as operation of key utilities like power and water would also be allowed to be operational.
“In addition, civil servants on duty, in line with decisions and directives of the Public Service Commission (PSC), heads of ministries and the ad-hoc taskforce on Covid-19, will be allowed unrestricted movement.
Other measures that must be adhered to during the lockdown include a limit of 50 people for funerals.
Visits to clinics and hospitals would also remain restricted to one visitor per patient per day while motorists seeking fuel would not be allowed to leave their vehicles. By yesterday, police said they had started deploying officers to ensure that people observe the lockdown.
National Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police will vigilantly monitor the situation.
“We are already on implementation phase, by today (yesterday) officers were being deployed at highways, all point of entries, shopping centres and at places where people are most likely to take advantage of the situation to disregard the lockdown,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
He called on members of the public to take the lockdown seriously and avoid attempting to disregard it as officers will be in place to arrest such individuals.
“What the public should realise is that the lockdown is meant for their safety, security and health therefore it is important that they should heed to the President’s directive,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
Meanwhile, Sunday News observed hundreds of people who swamped retail shops to buy groceries ahead of the lockdown. From the earliest hours of the morning, people seemed intent to stock up on everything from stock feed to maize meal.
Snaking queues were the order of the day at some butcheries while retail major outlets were also inundated with people doing last minute shopping. There were indications that people had made the trek to the city centre from the various suburbs to make key purchases.
Mr Ryan Ndlovu (22) from Entumbane said he had been in the queue to get into the supermarket from the morning, and only managed to get in after 12pm.
“I can’t take the chance. What if I go back where I stay and find that it is also like this, or even worse than this. What would I do then? There’s one more day remaining and if I don’t get groceries today then how would I survive? I have to sacrifice and stand in this queue no matter how long it takes for me to get to the front,” he said.
Most people at the supermarkets visited by Sunday News seemed oblivious to the fact that most supermarkets would be open even during the lockdown. Mrs Esther Moyo (35) from Mpopoma said it was a challenge to maintain social distancing.
“It’s hot and there’s no relief here. We are also not observing social distancing because we all need to get into the shop. We don’t know how long this will last. What if the food runs out before then? And what if this coronavirus thing drags for a long time?” she said.
Shops in the low-density suburbs, however, were not flooded by customers. Instead of long queues, people seemed to get in and out with relative ease.
Apart from shops, residents also rushed to buy medication at pharmacies while others were seen at gas filling outlets. Hundreds were also seen at Renkini Rural Bus Terminus catching buses to their rural homes where they will be domiciled during the lockdown.
Addressing journalists in Harare on Friday, President Mnangagwa said all citizens would be required to stay at home, except essential movements to seek health services, buy food, medicines, other essentials and critical services.
He said situational reports had shown that it was necessary to take drastic measures to protect citizens. The pandemic, first reported in China in December 2019 has spread rapidly throughout the world, forcing many countries to enforce shutdowns in a bid to halt new infections.
The virus thrives where people are crowded and already almost 25 000 deaths have been recorded while about 120 000 have successfully recovered.
The public has also been concerned over the way people can report and test for Covid-19. Ministry of Health and Child Care spokesperson Mr Donald Mujiri said testing was free, but people will be screened first before being taken to a health centre.
“There are people who may suspect that they have Covid-19 because they have been in contact with a person who has it or simply because they have flue like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, a high body temperature, breathing difficulties and a headache.
“They must not rush to the hospital or a clinic but must immediately self-isolate. That is staying at home and they must not move around but should call the toll-free number (2019) and inform the operator of who they are, their physical address and how they are feeling. A Covid-19 health care worker then assures them if there is nothing wrong with them or the health workers go to the patients’ home to assess and decide how to help them,” he said.
Mr Mujiri however, said there was no random testing for Covid-19 if one does not present any symptoms of the virus or if they were not in contact with an infected person.
“This is a serious matter and people must treat it as such. We will test those that have the said symptoms and also these tests are done for free at the National Microbiology Reference Laboratory in Harare.”
Mr Mujiri added that there would be no documentation needed for those visiting their loved ones admitted in hospitals.
“The public must follow the President’s pronouncements which exempts those with essential movements related to seeking health services or other critical services from being locked down.
In addition, transport will also be curtailed during the lockdown. National Railways of Zimbabwe general manager Engineer Lewis Mukwada said the company will run freight (cargo) trains only, to move essential goods.
“We have to move essential commodities like maize, wheat and fuel. Passenger trains and commuter trains will however, be suspended,” he said.
Rural bus operators interviewed in Bulawayo said they will not run services as it was highly unlikely that people will be moving during the lockdown.
They said they will provide buses for urban transport through the Zupco facility, since it was one of the services approved to be operational during the lockdown. Sunday News