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Zimbabwe Extends COVID-19 Lockdown; Businesses Cry for Relief

Police and soldiers patrol the streets during a nationwide lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Harare, Zimbabwe, April 19, 2020.

Zimbabwe has extended a nationwide coronavirus lockdown by two weeks to try to halt the spread of infections. The country has 25 confirmed infections so far and three deaths from the virus. Public health experts welcomed the extended restrictions but businesses and traders say they need relief to survive the economic damage.

In a Sunday evening televised address, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was not yet in a position to end the lockdown aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 as transmission rates were rising in the country and the world over.

“Guided by these realities, and to allow ourselves greater leeway to prepare for worse times which are likely ahead, government has decided to extend with immediate effect the national lockdown by a further 14 days… up to 3rd May, 2020. It has been a very hard decision my government has had to take reluctantly. But it has been a necessary and unavoidable decision in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Government is acutely aware of the need to keep the economy running, albeit at subdued levels," he said.

He said nothing about demands from the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, which has called for a reduction in the value added tax and a lowering of interest rates to rescue struggling businesses.

People clear destroyed stalls in the area of a popular market in a campaign to clean up the city, in Harare, Zimbabwe, April 18, 2020.
People clear destroyed stalls in the area of a popular market in a campaign to clean up the city, in Harare, Zimbabwe, April 18, 2020.

The informal sector of Zimbabwe’s economy is also demanding help. Sam Wadzai leads the Vendors Initiative of activist group Social and Economic Transformation Zimbabwe. He said vendors are not happy with the lockdown extension as they have yet to receive grants promised last month.

“Surely this means continuation of hunger and suffering deprivation of the informal economy. So we call upon the government to ensure that they quickly disburse these funds so that people will not end up starving," said Wadzai.

Robert Shivambu, the spokesman of Amnesty International in southern Africa, said Harare must enact measures to ease hunger during the lockdowns. Even before the coronavirus, the U.N.’s World Food Program said more than 4.3 million Zimbabweans urgently needed assistance.

“So we are really calling on the government of Zimbabwe to provide some social protection measures to uphold the right to food. The measures to address food insecurity could include subsidies for those living in poverty and directly providing food to those who are not able to provide for themselves,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s Association of Doctors for Human Rights said it welcomes the lockdown extension. Association chief Fortunate Nyamande said any partial lifting of restrictions must be done “cautiously.”

“There is need for the ministry of health to come up with clear enabling guidelines which ensure that these facilities will not be abused, becoming vectors of transmission for COVID 19,” said Nyamande.

But, Nyamande said the group is concerned about the lack of measures to help the hungry and poor. There have been concerns that Zimbabweans are disobeying social distance rules during the lockdown while scrambling for food items in short supply such as corn meal.