The government of Zimbabwe has designated 11 rural areas in three provinces Covid-19 hotspots this week after a sharp increase in cases. The measures come as the country struggles to contain a third wave of coronavirus.
The provinces of Mashonaland West, Masvingo and Bulawayo have been subjected to strict localized lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. The government had already declared hotspots in three other regions, the first in May and another two in early June.
A national shutdown was announced in mid-June, the second this year. But restrictions on access points are stricter than in other parts of the country, and many businesses have to close at 3 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.
Since Zimbabwe registered its first case in March last year, semi-urban and rural areas have been considered safe areas, with most cases concentrated in cities. But in May, an increase in rural cases raised concerns that local health services could not cope.
Despite a good start to its vaccination program, Zimbabwe now has a severe vaccine shortage.
Mashonaland West, home to around 1.5 million people, has been hit the hardest by the new infections. The increase is believed to have been due to little or no social distancing, as tobacco and grain farmers travel to and from auction houses to sell their wares.
“We were never a priority in the first place, which means that [the government] don’t worry about us. We are like lambs to the slaughterhouse, coming here now is very scary. I hear that cases are increasing daily, we are not sure, ”said tobacco producer Cleopa Mushaninga, 50, from Karoi in Mashonaland West.
“My neighbor was admitted [to hospital] last week and has a high fever. We do not know, maybe it is this Covid. No one is safe anymore, ”Mushaninga said.
Bernard Bwerinofa, 36, panicked after his wife tested positive for Covid-19. Fortunately, Bwerinofa and his two young children tested negative and his wife is recovering at home.
“I used to think that Covid-19 was foreign, but it has visited us and we have to be vigilant. I cannot express the fear of losing my wife when she had a fever. The nearby hospital was already full, so we had to take her home. I’m glad he’s on the mend, but it was a scary moment, ”said Bwerinofa.
Most rural Zimbabweans rely on radio for critical Covid news and advice. The dissemination of information has focused mainly on urban areas, through public address systems, brochures and posters, as well as the launch of vaccines. Almost 1.15 million doses have been administered of the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines from China and the Indian Covaxin vaccine. More than 715,000 people have received one vaccine and 440,000 have received two.
Maud Dhaka, 45, of Chikuti in Marshonaland West, worries that her small grocery and clothing business will suffer during the shutdown.
“Covid or not Covid, I have to survive and it doesn’t look good. Our clients live in fear and that affects my business, which was already struggling. Opening from 8 am to 3 pm is not sustainable for small businesses, we need long hours to operate, ”said Dhaka.
According to the World Bank, half of Zimbabweans fell into extreme poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government said it will monitor infection rates across the country and review measures to contain the third wave.
It is committed to increasing awareness campaigns across the country, focusing on the worst affected areas. He said that radio and television stations have increased Covid-19 information programming.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism