HEALTH experts have said they foresee an extension of the 30-day lockdown imposed by Government over the weekend if people deviate from recommended guidelines meant to stop the spread of Covid-19.
This comes as police in Bulawayo continue with the enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, a development that saw a shebeen being raided in Magwegwe suburb as part of efforts to stop illegal activities that contribute to the spread of the virus.
Police also arrested 600 people in the city for defying lockdown regulations.
Under new lockdown measures, church services have been banned, funeral gatherings have been limited to 30 people, bars and bottle stores shut down, restaurants closed while intercity and interprovincial movement has been limited to those classified as essential service providers.
Members of the public are expected to shop within a 5 kilometre radius from their homes while essential services employees will be allowed to pass through checkpoints after producing exemption letters.
Yesterday, Government announced that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce will no longer be the sole authority responsible for issuance of travel exemption letters for essential service workers who will be working during the tightened Level Four lockdown period.
Under the revised regulations, companies are now required to give their employees individual letters which must be accompanied by the exemption letter from the respective parent ministry to enable them to travel to and from work.
The letter should state the employee’s name, identity particulars, the points of commute so that they only travel for work, company line of business/products. The document should also state how that is covered by the Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020, working hours, and shifts where necessary.
The letter should be signed by the company’s chief executive officer or managing director.
All this is being done to contain the spread of the virus.
After managing to flatten the Covid-19 curve, there has been a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country linked to festive season activities.
The Government said last night that 610 new cases and 13 deaths had been recorded in the last 24 hours. On Tuesday, a record 34 people died from Covid-19 in 24 hours countrywide as the country recorded 1 365 cases, the highest figure since the outbreak of the virus last year.
Zimbabwe Republic Police Bulawayo spokesman Inspector Abednico Ncube (right) and the Officer Commanding Bulawayo West Chief Superintendent Sheritah Bizeki Nyoka verify beer that was confiscated from a shebeen in New Magwegwe suburb at Magwegwe Police Station yesterday and (top) the New Magwegwe shebeen that was raided by police (Picture by Dennis Mudzamiri)
Experts said yesterday that if the trend continues, a lockdown extension is imminent. They said with the public not taking ownership of the stipulated prevention measures, Government might be forced to extend it beyond the 30 days announced on Saturday.
Acting Bulawayo provincial medical director Dr Welcome Mlilo said the spike in Covid-19 cases was not a surprise considering that the country is in the virus incubation period after the festive season.
“I don’t think we have started paying for December. The virus incubation period is 14 days, so we have to add 14 days from the time people started partying. If people started partying on December 20, we will have to add 14 days to the manifestation of the virus. If people started partying on January 1, we will also add 14 days. So, within that timeframe we are going to see our biggest numbers,” said Dr Mlilo.
“Hence, the goal of the national lockdown is simply to interrupt the spread of the virus. Every Zimbabwean at an individual level has a role in the national covid-19 response. It’s all our individual duty to conduct ourselves, by how we live amongst the community, to take deliberate well-known actions that interrupt the transmission of the virus. Once this objective is met, rational reasoning says the lockdown will no longer be necessary.”
Acting Mpilo Central Hospital chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said the worst is yet to come considering how communities openly violated lockdown regulations during the festive season.
“These record numbers are quite shocking and they are in line with what we have been warning against if the population didn’t follow procedures and allow the virus to spread. The figures are going to escalate and this is just a beginning of a very tearful season as the virus is going to kill more people than we are seeing.
“The record numbers are of people who are in communities meaning the virus is deep in communities and probably infected more people who have not been tested. The festive season was just a terrible thing happening together with Covid-19. The worst is yet to come especially when people don’t respect the virus,” said Prof Ngwenya.
He said the public’s attitudes and behaviour will determine what is going to happen next.
“If the peoples’ attitude and behaviour pour fuel in this raging fire of the Covid-19, I foresee the restrictive measures being extended even further than this where only a very few people will be allowed to move out. If the people behave very well the viral spread will slow down and then it will allow us to resume some of the activities again,” said Prof Ngwenya.
‘So, it is extremely, extremely critical for members of the public to adhere to the measures that Government has outlined that are recommended by the World Health Organisation.”
He said it was time for the world to implement uniformed lockdown measures which could extinguish the virus.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) director Mr Itai Rusike concurred with Prof Ngwenya, saying the Covid-19 fight should not be seen as Government’s responsibility only.
Mr Rusike said communities should embrace the lockdown measures as they are there to protect them, despite causing discomfort.
“The response to the Covid-19 pandemic is not the responsibility of the health care system alone.
“Public information, community ownership and adherence to the lockdown restriction measures will help reduce the impact of Covd-19 on our health institutions that may be overwhelmed by the number of sick people in need of hospitalisation,” he said.
As part of efforts to enforce lockdown measures, police in Bulawayo yesterday raided a house which was used as a shebeen in New Magwegwe suburb and confiscated a large consignment of clear and opaque beer and arrested nearly 600 suspects during an ongoing blitz targeting people violating lockdown regulations.
During the raid, police arrested a 21-year-old man who was involved in the illegal liquor retail business while his brother is on the run.
Countrywide, police arrested a total of 2 664 suspects for flouting lockdown regulations.
Chronicle news crew yesterday visited the shebeen and it was deserted following the crackdown carried out in the early morning hours. Neighbours alerted the police of the illegal activities and they reacted swiftly and raided the house and arrested Bukhosi Gumbo. They recovered 82 crates of Indlovu opaque beer, 84 crates of Chibuku beer and 17 quarts of clear beer.
Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Abednico Ncube said Gumbo would appear in court for violating lockdown regulations and operating without a liquor licence.
“We have intensified our operation targeting people who violate lockdown regulations. We arrested Bukhosi Gumbo after receiving a tip off from a neighbour informing us about the illegal activities in his neighbourhood,” he said.
“We raided the house and recovered several crates of beer stashed in the house which was used as a shebeen. We arrested 566 people for violating lockdown regulation and we also would like to warn people against engaging in any form of illegal activities during the lockdown period.”
The confiscated beer was taken to Magwegwe Police Station.
Gumbo’s neighbour, Mr Aleck Ndlovu said the shebeen has become a nuisance in the area.
“We could hardly sleep because of the noise coming from the shebeen. In fact, as neighbours we had tried to engage the owners to desist from their illegal activities but they persistently defied until some people in the neighbourhood decided to inform the police,” he said.
“At times cars belonging to patrons would block the road at night. We ended up barricading the road using stones after one of my neighbours’ precast wall was damaged when one of the patrons got drunk and smashed his car.”
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said yesterday, 2 664 suspects had been arrested, 1 304 were nabbed for not wearing face masks while 262 did not have exemption letters allowing them to access various city centres. A total of 104 people were arrested for liquor related offences.
“People should prioritise their safety and health by staying at home so that as a country we can be able to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. We arrested 391 people for unnecessary movements, 1 304 were arrested for not wearing face masks and 235 for violating sections of the Traffic Act,” he said.
“We are urging business people and institutions to adhere to the health guidelines as outlined by Government in terms of Covid National Lockdown Level 4 restrictions. We have people trying to access city centres yet they don’t have exemption letters and not even part of the essential service. The law will take its course.”