By Everson Mushava
President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday hinted strongly that he would extend the lockdown beyond this Sunday to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, saying his priority was to save lives.
Zimbabwe has been in lockdown since March 30, which Mnangagwa extended on April 19 to May 3 but yesterday said he would rather “err on the side of caution than on the side of carelessness.”
The country has recorded 32 cases of coronavirus infections with four deaths from just over 6 000 tests. Medical personnel have said testing remained too low to give an accurate picture of the situation in the country but acknowledge that an extended lockdown would hurt the already faltering economy.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Zimbabwe’s economy will shrink by 7,4% this year as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, after contracting by 7,5% last year.
But speaking to journalists at State House after receiving donations towards the fight against COVID-109 from businesses yesterday, Mnangagwa said the “economy could always be addressed later.”
“We had the first lockdown, which I extended by 14 days. When you came, I was thinking about what happens after the lockdown ends,” Mnangagwa said.
“We had been with this challenge, what do we do, balancing the need for economic growth and saving the lives of the people?
“I came to the conclusion that if citizens die, if our people die, we cannot resuscitate them. The economy can die, it can be resuscitated now or in the future, as long as people are alive.”
He added: “There can always be conferences on how we can resuscitate our economy, but I have never seen a conference where people will be discussing how they could resuscitate the dead. So, our bias is towards preservation of life.”
Zimbabwe, which was already experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, has been struggling to respond to the crisis, with government failing to buy personal protective equipment for its medical personnel in the frontline and to provide a relief stimulus package to industry and vulnerable groups.
Its struggle illustrates the problems faced by African governments in balancing their response to the worst public health crisis in over a century and keeping fragile economies alive.
West African nation Ghana lifted the lockdown in the capital Accra and the second biggest city of Kumasi but a week later, last Sunday, reported a record 271 new COVID-19 cases in the two cities in one day.
“The primary objective is to give priority to saving life. I have been studying the events worldwide, how governments handled the pandemic, some border on the lines of carelessness, some on overcautiousness. So, we must find a way, a way in my view, to err on the side of caution than err on the side of carelessness.”
Mnangagwa is, however, expected to open more areas of the economy next week while gatherings would remain barred and borders closed.
He admitted the country has a weak health system and that a full-blown outbreak would wipe out the entire population, hence the need to “prevent” through World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines such as lockdowns.
“When the pandemic began to spread to Europe and crossed the Atlantic Ocean into America, we began to see cases of the pandemic surfacing on the African content. So, across the board, African leaders began to react, those with the resources applied them to mitigate against the attack by the pandemic.
“We, here in Zimbabwe, with the burden of sanctions, the realisation that we have a very weak economy, a less-developed economy, a less-developed healthcare system, we felt that the pandemic would find joy in a country like ours and ravage our population.
“But we said we will not take the blow lying down. Let us stand up and mobilise ourselves, let us appeal to friends, but most importantly, our own Zimbabweans.”
He added: “We said, let us close ranks, let us observe the guidelines provided by the WHO. Some of the guidelines to mitigate against the spread of the virus are lockdowns, social distancing, hygiene, washing hands and so on. So social distancing does not cost money, it only costs the energy to walk away from the other.”
Mnangagwa received 60 tonnes of mealie-meal and 10 tonnes of green bar soap from Gain Wholesalers, linen worth $600 000 from hotelier Africa Sun.
The Rainbow Tourism Group also donated linen worth $200 000 while Chinese State-owned automotive manufacturer FAW Zimbabwe donated a tractor and boom sprayer among other items.
Other entities that also donated include Cottco, Coverlink, and the Indian Embassy, which pledged rice as well as medical drugs running into millions of dollars. NewsDay