Zimbabwe enters Covid lockdown amid fears over crowded new year parties | Global development

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Parties and new year celebrations that attracted thousands of revellers with little social distancing or mask wearing have triggered panic and a strict 30-day national lockdown in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

On New Year’s Eve thousands of people gathered at Matapi, Mbare, one of Zimbabwe’s oldest townships for a dancehall concert, while thousands of others held parties across the city despite a police ban.

Video footage and photographs showing huge crowds partying with no regard to Covid-19 regulations prompted an outcry on social media, with Zimbabweans questioning why the police had failed to shut down the concert. The Mbare event, which attracted top artists, was held less than a kilometre from Matapi police station.

Police have since arrested people involved in organising the unsanctioned concert, for breaking lockdown rules that ban gatherings of more than 50 people.

“So far, 52 people have been arrested … for openly defying the government’s Covid-19 measures on health, safety and security,” police said in a statement.

On the same night, other late-night venues dotted about the city were also crowded with revellers.

Across the country, 2,321 people were arrested on New Year’s Day for breaking lockdown measures, including 200 teenagers at a house party in Westgate, Harare.

“It appears members of the public are taking the Covid-19 pandemic for granted and are no longer taking precautionary measures,” the police said.

The events flouting regulations have triggered panic, with Zimbabweans fearing another wave of the virus.

A packed Harare fast food store on New Year’s Eve.
A packed Harare fast food store on New Year’s Eve. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On Sunday Zimbabwe recorded 774 Covid cases, with 571 new infections in Harare. As of 3 January, Zimbabwe had recorded 15,265 cases and 380 deaths.

However, testing is not widespread and cases have been rising rapidly since Christmas as Zimbabweans who work in South Africa returned home for the holidays.

Health experts have warned of a rapid rise in new infections, especially in the most populous suburbs where social distancing is impossible, while a government official said Zimbabwe could be “overrun by the virus”.

“We hear UK beds are overwhelmed by Covid-19. Well, that’s them. They say in South Africa that hospital admission thresholds are now quite high – that’s them. But, let me tell you about our own situation: don’t catch the virus if you can avoid it. We are being overwhelmed and overrun by this virus,” the information secretary, Nick Mangwana, said in a tweet.

Zimbabweans with relatives suffering from Covid-19 have pleaded for ventilators as private hospitals continue to charge high rates.

With a fragile health system, where there has been insufficient testing and a lack of preparedness to deal with the virus, health experts have warned of an impending health catastrophe.

In response to the rising cases, the government on Saturday ordered a strict 30-day national lockdown.

The vice-president, Constantino Chiwenga, said Zimbabwe had recorded 1,342 cases and 29 deaths in the past week, “the highest number recorded so far”. He ordered that funerals be limited to 30 people while gatherings such as weddings and church services have been banned for 30 days. The reopening of schools has been postponed indefinitely, while restaurants and bars have been shut down. A 6pm-6am curfew has been introduced.

However, airports will remain open, while intercity travel has been banned withborders open only to commercial cargo and vehicles transiting to other countries.

The lockdown also bans any form of informal trading, which is the mainstay of the economy and how millions of people earn get their livelihood.

Zimbabweans who spoke to the Guardian in Harare said the strict rules would plunge families into hunger.

“I used up all my money when I travelled for the Christmas holidays, how do I survive for the next 30 days without selling my wares? These decisions are being made with little regard to how poor people like us are going to survive,” said Esther Marimbire, a vendor from Budiriro, a suburb of southwest Harare.

The 40-year-old said that despite the government’s promises to give struggling families relief during the first lockdown in March last year, her family is yet to benefit. “I was part of the thousands here who registered for relief last year but up to now nothing has come our way. This means the government does not care about our welfare,” she said.

Zimbabwe has nearly 8 million people in need of food aid, according to humanitarian organisations, but recent rains have triggered hope of a better harvest following successive years of drought.

Glen Mutasa, 30, of Glen View in Harare, said his small business would suffer under the lockdown. “From the experience of last year’s lockdown that went on for months, hunger is knocking on my door. I cannot risk running battles with the police and soldiers so I will stay at home, but it’s tough.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Zimbabwe enters Covid lockdown amid fears over crowded new year parties | Global development

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