Health minister Obadiah Moyo was branded “useless” by furious army chiefs during a meeting of the Cabinet taskforce on Covid-19 on Friday, ZimLive has learnt.
Moyo, who has been under intense public criticism from health sector unions over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak and labour issues, was immediately stripped of the chairmanship of the taskforce by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who returned from a trip to China on Friday night, will now head the taskforce deputised by defence minister Oppah Muchinguri.
A source briefed on the meeting said: “Military commanders who were present were scathing. They said he was useless and had lied about the country’s readiness for coronavirus, particularly conditions at Wilkins Hospital.”
Wilkins Hospital in Harare is the main referral centre for coronavirus patients, and it is where the country’s first death from the global pandemic was recorded on March 23 – exposing major shortcomings.
The hospital had no ventilators, a shortage of oxygen, no running water and lacked even a power socket to connect a ventilator sourced by the family of 30-year-old journalist Zororo Makamba, who was diagnosed with the disease after returning from a trip to coronavirus-ravaged New York.
Mnangagwa has declared a 21-day “total lockdown” of the country starting on Monday. State security chiefs under the Joint Operations Command attended the Covid-19 taskforce briefing on Friday as they will be in charge of ensuring compliance with the lockdown, which Mnangagwa hopes will slow down the spread of the virus.
“The security chiefs took turns to blame Makamba’s death on negligence. They ripped into the health minister who sat stone-faced. They demanded that the president should take charge of the coronavirus taskforce,” the source added.
In the end, Mnangagwa said he was drafting Chiwenga – whose plane had just departed Beijing where he underwent medical treatment – to lead the taskforce.
Mnangagwa, in an address to the nation on Friday night, said he had received situation reports from the taskforce which pointed to “continued potential grave threats to the nation”, necessitating the lockdown.
The health ministry said on Saturday night that Zimbabwe had seven coronavirus cases, and one death.