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Acting President Chiwenga urges Zimbabweans not to panic

Acting President Constantino Chiwenga has urged Zimbabweans not to panic, but to be even more vigilant in their daily lives as the country reels from the second wave of the lethal coronavirus.

This comes after Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister, Ellen Gwaradzimba, became the latest high-profile Zimbabwean yesterday to succumb to the deadly virus – amid soaring Covid-19 deaths and infections in the country.

Gwaradzimba is the second minister to die from coronavirus – after Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement minister, Perrance Shiri, also succumbed to the disease in July last year.

Shiri, a liberation struggle stalwart and former military commander – who was born Bigboy Samson Chikerema before he joined the war for independence in the 1970s – endured a difficult and lonely death in his car, as he tried in vain to drive himself to a hospital for treatment.

Ahead of her death yesterday, Gwaradzimba had been airlifted to Harare recently after her health took a turn for the worse after contracting coronavirus.

Her death also comes as health experts have reiterated calls for a much tougher national lockdown, which they say should now be enforced by soldiers to curb the growing disregard of the current stay-at-home order by ordinary citizens.

Yesterday, Chiwenga – who is also Health and Child Care minister – said authorities were doing all they could to manage the disease, further rejecting social media chatter that the country did not have adequate beds and equipment to deal with Covid-19 patients.

“It would be … an exaggeration at this stage, to suggest that our health institutions are overwhelmed by cases of Covid-19.

“Admittedly, the recent escalation of cases of the pandemic in the country caused a high demand for healthcare.

“Nonetheless, let me re-assure citizens that Zimbabwe’s public and private health institutions still have adequate capacity to offer services to all patients,” Chiwenga said yesterday.

“It is also well-documented that among the active cases recorded so far … two to three percent warranted hospitalisation with specialised treatment.

“At least 12 to 13 percent required discharge within two to three days of admission … while the bulk of 85 percent only required self-isolation,” Chiwenga added.

This comes as more and more Zimbabweans continue to die from the lethal virus, with a mind-numbing 47 people succumbing to the respiratory disease on Thursday alone – as authorities battle to reduce fatalities.

The country’s death toll as of yesterday stood at 636.

Zanu-PF Manicaland chairperson Mike Madiro confirmed to the Daily News yesterday that Gwaradzimba had indeed succumbed to Covid-19.

“We have just learnt with shock that minister Gwaradzimba has passed on after suffering from Covid-19.

“We are currently making a recommendation as Zanu-PF Manicaland Province to the politburo for her to be declared a national heroine.

“Burial arrangements will be announced in due course because being a Covid-19 case, there are protocols to be observed,” Madiro told the Daily News.

Gwaradzimba’s death came as the government has been hit hard by coronavirus, with more than 1 000 civil servants confirmed to have been infected by the disease – as Zimbabwe’s total number of reported Covid-19 deaths and infections continue to soar.

Public Service deputy minister Lovemore Matuke told the Daily News recently that 1 305 government workers had so far provided the requisite Covid-19 certificates, making them eligible for compensatory payments to affected civil servants in United States dollars.

The Public Service Commission has started compensating all infected government employees, including permanent secretaries, after they contracted the disease.

As the novel virus continues to shatter the country, health experts called for the deployment of soldiers yesterday — to complement police officers in enforcing Covid-19 regulations.

Top Bulawayo-based medical doctor, Solwayo Ngwenya, said Zimbabweans had shown that they were not watchful enough, and hence the only solution was to force them to observe coronavirus rules.

“It is a matter of days that it will be evident that there is a need for stricter lockdown measures on the basis of the huge numbers of confirmed cases and deaths that the health sector is failing to cope with.

“Then, the need to elevate the lockdown to levels four and five, whereby people are restricted from leaving their homes, will be apparent.

“Soldiers will have to be brought in when we elevate the lockdown, and it will have to be harsher, where people are not to leave their homes without a valid reason.

“My warning is that people must do all they can to avoid infection because once one has Covid-19, the chances of survival are decreasing, as seen through the lower recovery rate,” a concerned Ngwenya told the Daily News.

On his part, the president of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina), Enock Dongo, accused the government of introducing “a vague lockdown which allowed too many people” to go about their business.

“The previous lockdown did not give people the chance to go around with no clear purpose, yet this time around the regulations are vague.

“Too many sectors were opened and now people are taking advantage of this. So many shops claiming to deal in agriculture equipment that includes hoes are open everywhere, while individuals go into town ostensibly because they sell agricultural products.

“All this has caused confusion. So, apart from bringing in soldiers to reinforce the police, there is also need for the government to revisit the restrictions with a view to plugging several loopholes being manipulated,” Dongo told the Daily News.

However, the secretary-general of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA), Aaron Musara, said it was too early to call for stricter lockdown measures – arguing that exceedingly high numbers of confirmed cases were a result of the “mixing and mingling mischief” that characterised the festive season.

“The unrestricted merry-making and socialising had a super spreading effect. It is too early to assess whether the current lockdown needs to be extended.

“Remember, lockdown is not a remedy for Covid-19. It is meant to buy time so that hospitals and other things can be made ready to deal with cases or to flatten the curve and reduce pressure on facilities.

“Preventing the spread of the coronavirus, therefore, remains paramount,” Musara told the Daily News.

This comes as authorities have moved to make it easier for suppliers to procure and avail medical oxygen in anticipation of higher demand for the critical commodity due to spiralling Covid-19 cases.

The national chief Covid-19 coordinator in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office, Agnes Mahomva, confirmed the development to the Daily News earlier this week – saying the government had done this in anticipation of even higher demand for medical oxygen in the country.

“In view of the continued increase in the number of confirmed cases, we are saying that if we are going to have a huge number of patients requiring oxygen, we do not want to be saying sorry we are waiting for the tanks to arrive. The oxygen must simply be there.

“We are, therefore, responding to what is happening on the ground, in line with the government’s surge-specific response plan that has been devised,” she said.

Zimbabwe entered its third week of the stiffened stay-at-home order last weekend, which was imposed by authorities in a  bid to curb Covid-19’s spread in the country.

The reversion to a hard lockdown has also seen authorities re-introducing a fresh dusk-to-dawn curfew.

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