Health experts, businesses laud lockdown extension

Nqobile Tshili/ Oliver Kazunga, Chronicle Reporters
HEALTH experts yesterday commended Government for extending the national lockdown saying it is the only way to contain the spread of Covid-19 virus in the country while keeping the citizens safe.

President Mnangagwa on Sunday extended the lockdown by two weeks as part of Government’s broad response to the rising number of cases.

This means that Zimbabwe will be under lockdown for five weeks from March 30 to May 3.

President Mnangagwa said the country was facing a new situation in which more of the country’s citizens are coming back home, including from countries heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This, he said, presents an unavoidable, but growing threat to the nation as it accommodates all its returning citizens.
Health experts have projected that the lockdown could be extended in small measures up to the end of winter in August.

Business leaders also lauded Government’s decision allowing limited operations in manufacturing and for the mining sector to resume or scale up operations within parameters set by the World Health Organisation.

As of Monday, Zimbabwe had recorded 25 Covid-19 positive cases including three deaths and two recovered patients.

Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Dr Solwayo Ngwenya said if it was not for the timely imposition of the lockdown more people could have been infected in the country.

“If you see the figures that are being published, the virus is being contained from spreading out of control. The virus does very well in cold temperatures, which are coming in a few weeks or have already started. So, the lockdown has to be extended so that the virus does not get out of control during the cold season. I foresee lockdowns being given in small doses until August. I don’t foresee schools, churches and mass gatherings starting until after August,” said Dr Ngwenya.

“If there were no lockdowns and lockdown extensions, by this time in Zimbabwe we would be having a lot of infections and deaths. The lockdown is playing its role and we will continue to lobby for more extensions to protect the lives of citizens.”

Dr Ngwenya said if the cases drastically spike hospitals will have challenges coping with patients as health institutions are under-resourced.

Another health expert, Dr Ritta Dlodlo said the lockdown extension gives the health sector more time to prepare for any eventualities.

“It might not prevent the outbreak of the disease but it gives us more time to get ready which is a good thing.

“The issue is that if measures are relaxed it may be so that we would have considerable increase in the number of cases. So, it is very, very important that everybody observes those preventive measures and we observe them during this two-week extension period,” said Dr Dlodlo.

She urged sectors that have been allowed to operate to do so while adhering to precautionary measures that have been put in place.

Zimbabwe Medical Association president Dr Francis Chiwora said it was inevitable for Government to extend the lockdown.

“This lockdown was occasioned by the Covid-19 disease and as you are aware our figures are going up and they are not as rapid as they are elsewhere but they are still going up. So, the Government is informed by the epidemiology sector, World Health Organisation (WHO) experts and our own experts as well,” said Dr Chiwora.

“And from the medical point of view it will not be correct to lift the lockdown at this point in time where the figures are still going up. Remember we do not have testing in the community and quite a number of people might be infected.

“Hopefully by extending, we may get to a point where the numbers stabilise or start falling. That will be the correct time to lift the lockdown.”

He said the lockdown has to be upheld even though it has severe economic implications, a price that the nation should take to save lives.

Dr Chiwora said during the lockdown members of the public should comply to regulations while observing social distancing.

He said the public should also be sensitised on the need to use face masks to protect lives.

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Mr Itai Rusike, said the two weeks lockdown extension was the best available strategy for Zimbabwe given the rise in new Covid-19 cases.

He said it was encouraging that the lockdown extension decision was made after wide consultations with community stakeholders and health professionals.

Mr Rusike said the whole nation has a role to play in protecting citizens during the extended lockdown.

“There is great anticipation by the population of the possibility of returning to a sense of normalcy and routine activities therefore the framing and communication of the lockdown extension will be of key importance,” he said.

Business leaders have also embraced Government decision to extend the national lockdown and pledged to continue supporting efforts towards controlling the spread of the deadly pandemic.

“By extending the national lockdown by another 14 days the President and his Cabinet are spot-on because it is a fact that the country should accept on account of the continued rise in the number of Covid-19 cases.

“As industry, we welcome the decision although on the other hand, the economy is being affected negatively because of limited production,” said Confederation of Zimbabwe (CZI) vice national president, Mr Joseph Gunda.

“Even if we were to say the lockdown has been lifted, that would have created a discord in the fight against Covid-19 at regional level because some of the countries in the region are on lockdown.

“In addition, what good will the lifting of the lockdown at the moment bring to the country economically, because most of the raw materials used in the manufacturing of goods by local companies come from South Africa and is on lockdown,” he said.

Association for Business in Zimbabwe chief executive officer Mr Victor Nyoni hailed the Government’s decision despite the negative repercussions that comes with it on the economic side.

“We also think the extension was unavoidable given that our neighbours (South Africa) had already done the same. But also, fundamentally because we realised that not enough tests have been done and also that the nation still needs much time to mobilise resources to ensure that it is in a state it will be able to manage the disease,” he said.

“But you must also understand that we (business) are very active from the economic side of things and we are concerned that as business we are unable to generate revenue or operate in a normal way.”

Political Actors Dialogue (Polad) economic committee chairperson Mr Trust Chikohora said: “It is a step in the right direction.

“It will help to keep the economy running in these two (mining and manufacturing) critical areas. The extension of two weeks is also conservative and shorter than what others have done.

“We hope the two weeks will be used to ramp up testing, isolation, quarantine and also to enhance our medical facilities.

“This announcement is generally in line with our previous submission that we now need to be strategic and balance the need to contain spread of the disease with the need to get the economy going again.”