Lockdown should be extended to the beginning of next school term: MDC Alliance Senator David Coltart

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MDC Alliance official David Coltart says the 21-day lockdown set to elapse tomorrow (19 April) should not be lifted but has to be extended to the 5th of May when schools re-open.

Coltart urged the government, international community and the private sector to use the extension to work hard and implement a number of measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Some of the measures suggested by Coltart include testing of front line medical staff and those still working in public, provision of face masks for the unemployed, compelling businesses to enforce social distancing, all businesses to be compelled to use hand sanitizer, provision of free food to the poor, educating the police and army to enforce the lockdown humanely, among others.

Read Coltart’s statement below:

Some personal thoughts on Zimbabwe’s Coronavirus lockdown policy

The Zimbabwean Coronavirus lockdown is due to end at midnight on Sunday the 19th April. Mr Mnangagwa has stated that his government is going to review that policy and has suggested he will make a decision on the 20th April, but if it is left that late that will only cause unnecessary confusion. Businesses need to be able to plan ahead and government should announce its intentions today. It will cause chaos if government waits until the weekend, or after the weekend, to announce its decision.

Be that as it may any decision to end or extend the lockdown is fraught with problems. On the one hand it is clear that infections are rising and that Zimbabwe may only be at the early stages of its total number of infections, if statistics of other countries in the world are anything to go by. On the other hand it is clear that in many respects the lockdown is not working in Zimbabwe, and in any event is unsustainable. Lockdowns may work in countries with resilient economies but the danger in Zimbabwe is that more people may die from starvation than Covid 19. In addition it is virtually impossible for poor people to remain in their tiny homes for weeks on end without any ability to make an income and feed themselves.

It is clear that we need to finesse our lockdown policy so that we limit infections as far as possible but ensure that poor people in particular are not in greater danger from malnutrition than they are from Covid 19. We need to move away from the two extreme ends of the policy spectrum to a balance between a total lockdown and no lockdown at all. The current lockdown is clearly unsustainable but against that a sudden end to the lockdown could have catastrophic consequences.

Prior to making suggestions I must state the obvious. I do not have public health policy expertise, nor do I pretend to have it. I simply have been reading the views of a wide range of experts both within Zimbabwe and world wide and it seems to me that common sense dictates that the following broad principles should be applied:

1. It would be wrong to simply end the lockdown on Sunday. With infections rising in the country it will send a wrong and dangerous message to many Zimbabweans who are already not practising safe social distancing and personal hygiene methods, namely that the danger is past.

2. The current lockdown should be extended to the beginning of the next school term – Tuesday the 5th May – and during that extension government, the international community and the private sector must work vigorously on the following measures.

3. Government in conjunction with the international community must urgently ramp up testing of front line medical staff and those still working in public. As resources and testing kits become more freely available testing must be extended to all displaying symptoms of Covid 19.

4. Goverment in conjunction with the private sector must use this period to produce face masks on a massive scale which should be provided free to unemployed people and at a subsidised cost to others. By the 5th May it must be made mandatory for all people to wear masks in public places. Government should avail clothing manufacturing companies throughout Zimbabwe the necessary financial support to manufacture hundreds of thousands of masks in the coming weeks.

5. Government must immediately commence a massive education policy regarding social distancing and compel all government institutions and businesses to mark out 2 meter distances for customers in all public places. A range of new laws should be enacted to compel social distancing in all public places. Laws will have to be introduced to stipulate maximum numbers of people who can travel in various categories of public transport.

6. Government in conjunction with the private sector must ramp up the production and importation of hand sanitisers and laws must be introduced to compel all businesses and all institutions to use sanitisers at all entrances to all public buildings.

7. All efforts to expedite the refurbishment and fitting out of hospitals countrywide to accommodate Covid 19 patients should be made by government, the private sector and the international community. The Minister of Finance should regulate that any donations made by private citizens and companies towards recognised government hospitals or charities involved in this exercise should be tax deductible.

8. UN agencies have recently warned that over 5 million Zimbabweans are food insecure and many are malnourished. If we are to avoid widespread looting of stores during the lockdown government, with its international and civil society and church partners, must urgently designate food outlets throughout urban areas (particularly in high density areas) well controlled by the police, where basic food such as mealie meal, vegetables and cooking oil can either be provided to poor people for free or at minimal cost. The private sector should be engaged to assist in the transportation of food to the outlets and the general organisation thereof.

9. Government in conjunction with the private sector must rapidly escalate the production/ importation and supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for front line medical staff.

10. The police and army must immediately be clearly instructed and educated that their role is to enforce the lockdown humanely. The widespread reports of soldiers beating innocent civilians over the last few days are unacceptable. Those responsible for these beatings should be suspended and charged and statements should be made from the highest authorities that the role of the police and army is to assist the public to ensure that social distancing and hygiene measures are respected.

11. The lockdown provisions should be relaxed to the extent that people be allowed to exercise for two hours daily so long as they do not participate in groups of more than 3 people, practice safe social distancing habits and wear masks. This should be implemented immediately – poor people in particular cannot be expected to remain cramped up in tiny flats or homes for weeks on end. The existing policy is not working and is impossible to enforce.

12. The lockdown should be reviewed at the end of April and businesses given adequate warning if the lockdown is be varied on the 5th May.

13. In any event if the lockdown is varied, or reduced, on the 5th May provision must be made to extend the lockdown and protection of all institutions catering for particularly vulnerable people such as old age homes. Policies must be implemented to ensure that other vulnerable people, for example those suffering from diseases such as lung disease and diabetes, are protected as far as possible. In any event all large public gatherings where there is close contact of people in confined spaces should be banned indefinitely pending confirmation that infections are under control.

In closing it is clear that government does not have the resources needed to implement all of the policies suggested above. This can only be achieved if we get the support of both the private sector and the international community. With regard to the latter it is important that the key political leaders from across the political spectrum make a combined appeal and approach to the international community for assistance.

Senator David Coltart
Bulawayo
17th April 2020

– David Coltart


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