By Nqobile Tshili
Fear of losing loved ones is the only force that could motivate Bulawayo residents to change their behaviour and follow Covid-19 prevention measures.
Over 27 000 people have contracted Covid-19 since the country recorded its first case in March 2020 with over 700 others succumbing to the virus.
On Monday, the Ministry of Health and Childcare reported that 60 people had died due to the virus.
The figure includes casualties from Harare over the weekend.
Despite the threat posed by the pandemic, some members of the public seem to still be in denial that Covid-19 is real as they wantonly flout regulations.
Nearly 10 000 people were last week arrested for not wearing face masks countrywide, proving that members of the public do not take Covid-19 preventive measures seriously.
Government two weeks ago announced stringent lockdown measures to curb the sharp spread of Covid-19 which has seen more than 200 people dying within a week.
Part of the strict lockdown measures include that members of the public should stay at home to restrict the spread of the virus.
Authorities have urged the public to treat everyone they meet as Covid-19 positive as the virus is widespread in communities.
The measures have resulted in a reduced number of people trafficking to the city centre.
But not so much has changed as residents in Bulawayo’s high density suburbs have continued to live care free as if there is no Covid-19.
The situation is totally different from the initial lockdown which was imposed at the end of March last year where most residents stayed at home in compliance to regulations.
When Government imposed the initial lockdown, Covid-19 cases came from outside the country, yet local transmissions dominate the latest strain.
A Chronicle news crew visited western suburbs such as Cowdray Park, Nkulumane, Nketa, and Mabutweni and observed that residents went about their business without worrying about the virus.
In most suburbs a group of young men could be seen sharing alcohol or a smoke. None of them would be observing social distancing.
Schools were closed to curb the spread of Covid-19 and pupils were expected stay indoors but most of them were seen playing outside without wearing face masks.
Some of the children told the news crew that there is nothing they are afraid of as they did not know anyone who contracted Covid-19.
Vendors who set their stalls outdoors also interacted with clients, some of whom were not wearing masks.
Regular sanitisation or washing of hands is just but a myth.
Despite Government increasing efforts of educate the public about the deadly pandemic which includes the Civil Protection Unit (CPU) sending text messages to individual cell phones, some residents are still adamant that Covid-19 is not a threat to them.
Some of them admitted that they only wear their masks when going to the city or shops as if the virus is only in the city centre’s streets or shops.
“Yes, we have heard that Covid-19 cases are on the increase but since last year, I have never seen anyone who has been infected by it. So why should I make my life uncomfortable by wearing a mask? There are things that are more real to me than the virus. Those who are afraid of it should just wear masks and leave us alone. These masks are very uncomfortable,” said a Nkulumane resident who declined to be named.
Miss Portia Ncube from Cowdray suburb said the face mask disturbs her as she likes to put on make-up.
“What would be the point of wearing make-up when you have to cover it with a mask? We always hear people telling us about Covid-19 but it’s almost a year and we haven’t come across anyone who is infected,” said Miss Ncube.
However, some residents comply with lockdown measures and have raised concern over those that do not want to follow regulations.
Mrs Memory Mguni from Cowdray Park suburb said she has lost close friends yet some people were taking the virus lightly.
“In the past you would just hear that someone has been infected with Covid-19. But these days some of the infected people are our friends, families and even children. We have lost people who are close to us due to this virus. And when that person dies you don’t get closure since there won’t be any body viewing. It’s important for people to follow preventive measures, worryingly, some people think they are immune to the virus,” said Mrs Mguni.
Ingutsheni Central Hospital chief executive officer Dr Nemache Mawere said fear is the only motivator that can force members of the public to follow Covid-19 regulations.
“If you are not motivated to do something, you won’t do it even if you are able to do it. So, I think it’s the motivation which is lacking for the population to change their behaviour. But this time around as you walk around, I don’t know where you are but I’m in Chegutu, I see everyone is now putting on a mask because they are motivated to follow regulations as they have seen a lot of people dying and a lot more getting infected. So, people are now motivated to change their behaviours because of that fear,” said Dr Mawere.
He said there is also a need to intensify community engagement to change public behaviours.
Dr Mawere said even packaging of Covid-19 information is also critical as it should target various social groups.
A psychologist Dr Lazarus Kajawu said misinformation about Covid-19 is the major reason why members of the public do not follow regulations.
“What appears to influence non-behaviour changes has to do with numerous conspiracy theories thrown all over by the social media. Some believe it (Covid-19) is a rich man’s disease and that it does not affect them. In addition, it appears there is general lack of adequacy of information among the people in high density suburbs,” said Dr Kajawu.
“To help behaviour change there should be massive information awareness campaigns so that the people own the messages.”
He said the public should not only follow regulations when they see law enforcement agents such as the police as this is for their own good.
Dr Kajawu said electronic gaming could be another form of disseminating information to the public where people at home use games to share Covid-19 information. The Chronicle.