By Miriam Mangwaya
Government says it will unleash the army to ensure strict enforcement of COVID-19 regulations as infections continue to rise.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of the third wave, driven by the Delta and Beta variants and has recorded new cases daily of 1 249; 1 331 and 1 357 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
The number of deaths over the same days were 12, 28 and 19 in that order.
Health experts warned that compliance with the lockdown measures was poor and that about half of the country’s 15 million population was at risk.
Announcing new COVID-19 measures at a Press conference yesterday, Home Affairs minister Kazembe Kazembe said the police was enforcing the lockdown measures, but government could release the army to enforce compliance.
He was flanked by Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri and State Security minister Owen Ncube.
The ministers had just come from a Joint Operations Command meeting at Chaminuka House, the Central Intelligence Organisation headquarters.
“In accordance with the emergency status we may find ourselves in, the government can call upon any security institution to implement the measures should there be that necessity,” he said.
“The law allows the government when the requirement to call any security institutions if the need arises but as for now, the police will be enforcing. But if the need arises, the government will call any security institution to assist in enforcement.”
Government deployed soldiers to enforce the first lockdown in April last year, which led to an outcry over human rights abuses during the period.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, since he went into power through a military coup in November 2017, has deployed the soldiers several times, including to quell protests over the delay in releasing the results of the presidential elections on August 1, 2018 and brutally clamp down on fuel price hike protests in January 2019.
Six civilians were killed in the first instance, while 23 people were killed in the 2019 protests clampdown by the soldiers, with thousands left nursing bullet wounds, while women were raped and tortured.
Under the new measures, bars will be banned from opening, Kazembe said.
“In response to the spike in COVID-19 cases and fatalities across the country amid the third wave as well as the spread of the deadly variants such as the Delta variant, the security forces will ensure strict adherence to the level four COVID-19 lockdown in line with World Health Organisation protocols,” he said.
“All citizens are mandated to wear masks properly and strictly practise social distancing. Failure to wear face masks is a punishable offence, given the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Security officers will enforce strict compliance of the COVID-19 regulations without fear or favour.”
Added Kazembe: “In an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, security forces will ensure that pirate taxis known as mushikashika are decisively dealt with as part of the COVID-19 measures. Those found violating the measures will be dealt with decisively.”
In June, police arrested 51 018 people for failing to wear masks properly.
Health experts have expressed concern over non-compliance of the lockdown measures, which they said was likely to trigger a surge of new infections.
Health experts have warned that half the population could contract the virus in the next two weeks if strict enforcement measures are not implemented. NewsDay