By Eunice Masunungure
ZIMBABWE has continued to tread on the side of caution to save lives by gradually relaxing the lockdown enforced to curb the spread of COVID-19.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has clearly stated that: “We would rather err on the side of caution and not on the side of recklessness.”
President Mnangagwa’s move to extend the national lockdown by another 14 days while announcing a ZWL$18billion Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package, intended to scale-up production in all sectors of the economy in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is beneficial in light of several considerations.
Zimbabwe’s national health system has been adversely affected by sanctions and there is no proven vaccine for COVID-19 so far.
Stage-by-stage easing of the lockdown conditions is also vital in light of warnings that have been issued so far on COVID-19.
“Countries must lift lockdowns gradually, while still being on the look-out for COVID-19 and ready to restore restrictions if the virus jumps back,” WHO said on May 1.
“Even as some Western countries begin easing lockdowns, there are worrying trends of spread in countries from Haiti to Somalia and Yemen,” WHO’s top emergencies expert Dr Mike Ryan said.
Ryan also cited Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and a ‘serious cluster’ in Kano, Northern Nigeria.
On April 2020, WHO warned that the world is yet to experience the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO projected sentiments of uncontrollable spread of the pandemic through Africa in future, citing major causes as the far less developed health systems and easing of lockdowns.
The WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus aired crucial sentiments to be considered in easing lockdowns at a press conference in Geneva on March 30 2020 as follows:
“While COVID-19 accelerates very fast, it decelerates much more slowly. In other words, the way down is much slower than the way up. That means control measures must be lifted slowly and with control. it cannot happen all at once.”
WHO also warned that the spread and mortality of COVID-19 could be more devastating as the southern hemisphere enters winter season, which makes taking caution very fundamental.
“Lifting restrictions could lead to a deadly resurgence,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also issued a similar warning on April 22 2020 indicating that the coronavirus could strike in a second wave.
The US’ CDC indicated that the coronavirus’ next outbreak could actually be more difficult than the current one.
The centre stated that the US would experience a combination of flu and COVID-19 at the same time, and this would worsen the situation.
Although the impact of COVID-19 has not been harshly felt by Africa compared to the US and Europe, as proven by the numbers of deaths recorded across the continent, slowly opening up economies and saving lives has been a maxim to go by.
Gradual easing of lockdown helps in avoiding wrath of the pandemic as witnessed by Europe, the US and China.
Government has carefully considered various factors in the partial lifting of the lockdown.
“A brief study has been made on how some jurisdictions in Africa have contained the prevalence of infections and also how they are adjusting to, or exiting from their respective approaches.
The results have differed from country to country, with a number witnessing varied levels of spikes in infections after easing restrictions […]
In our case, the lockdown has proved to be an effective strategy to curtail the proliferation of the disease in the country.
In addition, measures such as the mandatory quarantine and isolation of all returnees have been key in achieving low figures,” said President Mnangagwa.
Events around the world have influenced the kind of decision taken by Zimbabwe.
Rushed reopening has risks of the spread of the virus.
For instance, Ghana became the first country in Africa to lift lockdown but it paid the price.
The number of infections has been on the rise.
According to the Coronovirus Worldometer, the infections rose from
1 042 on April 20 to 2 169 on May 4.
Ghana mistakenly banked on its capacity to test and isolate and the belief that the public would adhere to the physical distancing and hygiene protocols to beat the spread of the virus.
Zimbabwe is not the only country to exercise caution in easing lockdown since Rwanda also took a measured approach.
Use of masks was underlined, as in Zimbabwe.
Another insightful view on lifting lockdowns with caution can be picked from South Africa.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa partially eased the lock down to allow revival of the country’s economy but the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has been arguing that lifting the lockdown and immediate re-opening of the economy would place the majority of people in danger of contracting the virus.
Several African countries have partially eased lockdown but the ban on gatherings is still in place.
Zimbabwe is actually working on its own package to stimulate the economy because of sanctions.The Government must be applauded for considering easing the lockdown in stages that fit the country’s unique conditions since the nation’s critical sectors must go out and fend for the economy.