Zimbabwe extends coronavirus lockdown by two weeks

President Emmerson Mnangagwa says ‘hard decision’ taken because country has not yet met WHO conditions to lift measure.

A policeman crosses an empty street in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare [Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]
A policeman crosses an empty street in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare [Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

Zimbabwe‘s government has extended a lockdown by two weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Sunday the country had not yet met conditions set down by the World Health Organization (WHO) to lift the measure, imposed on March 20.

“It has been a very hard decision that my government has had to take reluctantly,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

The lockdown has left many citizens without an income as the country is grappling with the worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by shortages of foreign exchange, food and medicines.

As of Sunday, the country has confirmed 25 coronavirus cases, including three deaths, but health professionals have expressed fears that many infections could be going undetected due to limited testing.

A lack of critical medical equipment and infrastructure shortages complicate the challenging situation, as years of underfunding and economic challenges have brought the country’s health sector to its knees.

Mnangagwa said the the country has “witnessed a spike in the number of infections from single digits to the current 25.”

“We are deeply worried that the virus is beginning to attack our children with more and more cases coming from local transmissions.” 

Mnangagwa said the government would allow mining companies, the country’s top foreign currency earner, to resume full operations while manufacturers would work at limited capacity. Mining companies operating in Zimbabwe include local operations of Impala Platinum Holdings and Anglo American Platinum. 

He added that the government had embarked on expanding testing across the country to gauge the magnitude of the problem and isolate cases early on.

Zimbabwe lockdown: Damage to livelihoods grows (2:23)

The lockdown has confined most people to their homes, but in poor townships, people are venturing out in search of staples like maize meal, leading to long queues at the shops.

In the capital, Harare, city council officials, with the help of police and soldiers, were on Sunday tearing down illegal market stalls used by informal traders in townships.

The action was strongly criticised by citizens in the country where more than 80 percent of the working population have no formal jobs and rely on the informal economy to make a living.

City authorities defended the move, saying it was necessary to restore order and that informal traders would be relocated to new and better facilities.

As part of measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the government has declared a state of national disaster and banned all public gatherings of more than 50 people for 60 days. Some of the banned gatherings include church services, weddings and all international sporting fixtures.

The government has also ordered the closure of schools and designated three hospitals as quarantine facilities.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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