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Covid-19: Survival-seeking traders dice with death

BY TAFADZWA MHLANGA

WITH the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in more than 24 000 deaths worldwide, the expectation is that the general public will be exercising caution to avoid being affected by the virus.

But a visit last week to Harare’s Mbare suburb, the hub of the informal sector, showed that precaution against the deadly virus seems to rank very low on the priority list of most of the informal traders.

The warnings, which have been broadcast and published in all mainstream media detailing the dangers of the virus and precautions to be taken to avoid contracting it, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Traders said the need to fend for their families took precedence over possible Covid-19 risks.

It was business as usual, especially in Mbare on Friday despite calls by government to stay at home and avoid congestion.

A visit to Mbare Musika demonstrated just how indifferent people were to the dangers of a virus that has affected seven people in the country by Friday with one fatality.

The market was teeming with both sellers and buyers all over the place.

The informal traders were more concerned about taking care of their families in an economy battered by major headwinds, which include a debilitating liquidity crunch, fuel and foreign currency shortages, low production, prolonged power outages and runaway inflation of more than 500% that has decimated incomes.

There were no signs that the warnings by the Health and Child Care ministry and World Health Organisation to maintain social distancing, practicing respiratory hygiene, keeping the surroundings clean and avoiding unnecessary movements were being heeded at Mbare Musika.

Journalist Zororo Makamba succumbed to the virus on Monday last week.

With rumours of the closure of the Mbare Musika and the Mupedzanhamo centre, traders were on Friday dashing to make as much money as possible as they frantically sold their wares.

One lady who spoke to Standardbusiness best described the mindset of most buyers and sellers at the marketplace.
With a baby strapped on her back and holding a plastic bag filled with foodstuffs, she declared that it was “better to die with a full tummy than to die hungry”.

“I know that the coronavirus is real because we heard there is a man who died recently due to this virus, but it’s no use for me to stay at home knowing that the market might be closed anytime,” she said.

“Where do you think we will buy the foodstuffs from?

“It is better to die knowing that I have food in the house so that my children will have something to eat in the meantime than to stay at home without food.”

There was no protection whatsoever against the spread of coronavirus for the people at the market.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said congested areas like Mbare Musika would have health and security personnel on site to maintain high levels of hygiene, but added that there was consideration to shut down such markets.

A fruit and vegetable seller who identified himself as Rugare Mataringe from Mutare, who had no face mask nor hand sanitiser to use for himself, was in close contact with his customers with no regard whatsoever for social distancing, which is advised to avoid the spread of the virus.

Holding wads of cash he was getting from his customers, Mataringe said he was at the market because he wanted to make sure he sold all his produce before he went back home to Mutare when the market is shut down.

“I have to make sure I sell everything before I go back to Mutare because that is the reason why I came here in the first place,” Mataringe said.

“I know that right now I am at high risk of contracting the disease and I am actually scared, but I do not have a choice because if I do not sell these, my family is in trouble.”

Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by the newly discovered coronavirus.

Most people infected with the Covid-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. 

Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

The first case of the virus was recorded in Wuhan, China late last year.

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