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Coronavirus: Don’t forget the vulnerable

Zimbabwe will go under a 21-day lockdown beginning tomorrow as the country races against time to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease, which has killed tens of thousands of people across the globe.

TheStandard Comment

The disease that was first detected in China late last year has already killed one person in Zimbabwe — prominent broadcaster Zororo Makamba — who is part of the seven confirmed cases so far.

Prior to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Friday order to confine Zimbabweans into their homes for three weeks to curb infections, Zimbabwe’s response to the pandemic was characterised by lack of decisiveness.

The delayed lockdown was inevitable given the spiralling infection rates in neighbouring South Africa and western countries, which have functional health systems such as the United States.

Mnangagwa’s order, however, was poorly executed as it was issued after businesses had closed for the week and there was no time for them to plan for the long-term disruptions.

Crucially, Zimbabwe is a very fragile country because of a collapsing economy and a complex humanitarian crisis characterised by massive food shortages and a huge HIV/Aids burden.

The government should have come out with a clear plan on how the most vulnerable families will be protected during this difficult time.

Zimbabwe’s has very weak policies on safety nets and these should have been put into perspective when setting the parameters for the lockdown.

The announcement on Friday sparked panic buying and meandering queues for mealie-meal became the order of the day as citizens began preparing for the period where their movements would be restricted.

Policymakers should now go back to the drawing board to ensure that the lockdown does not come with unintended consequences such as people living with HIV/Aids failing to access their medication or families going hungry because they could not secure adequate mealie-meal stocks on time before the lookout is enforced.

There is still need for a coherent plan to combat the spread of the coronavirus and it was intriguing that Mnangagwa did not make any reference to the strike by nurses and doctors at public hospitals, who are demanding personal protective equipment.

Health care workers elsewhere in the world are at the forefront of slowing down the spread of the disease and it is baffling why the government is treating the job boycott by local doctors and nurses as a non-event.

The government should as a matter of urgency start marshalling resources to critical areas that would be at the centre of interventions to stop the situation from deteriorating any further.

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