Merchants of chaos back on the prowl

The sanity which prevailed in most central business districts (CBDs) countrywide during the initial 21-day national lockdown is fading.

Chaotic and unpleasant scenes are re-emerging as some people are now flagrantly disregarding health guidelines designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The Government has allowed registered businesses to cautiously reopen in order to keep the economy ticking.

It is a fine balancing act designed to keep the virus at bay while at the same time shoring up economic activity.

The Level 2 is expected to continue indefinitely.

It will, however, be subject to reviews every fortnight.

But, jaywalkers and illegal traders, who are beginning to invade the city centre, are threatening to reverse the gains that have been made thus far.

Vendors that sell books and pesticides are now back on street pavements.

It is the same case with their counterparts who deal in fresh farm produce.

Some of the horticulture traders are slowly finding their way into the city where they sell their wares from their cars.

Illegal money changers have also resumed full-scale operations in their traditional zones.

Not to be outdone are street kids that are once again providing car wash and parking services in the CBD.

It gets worse!

The relaxation of the national lockdown means more workers are reporting  for work.

This in turn creates a challenge for the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) and commuter omnibuses operating under its franchise that are currently allowed to ferry travellers.

The Zupco fleet is failing to meet the rising demand, especially at a time when the buses can only accommodate limited passengers as a result of current social-distancing measures.

Thus banned kombi crews and owners of pickup trucks or small lorries have seized the opportunity to line their pockets, albeit at the expense of public health.

Neither social distancing nor sanitisation is observed by these illegal public transport operators.

It is hoped the 294 privately-owned buses and kombis cleared by the Central Mechanical and Equipment Department (CMED) last week to join the Zupco franchise will help ease the situation.

Long and winding queues that had also disappeared at fuel stations in the past weeks have also resurfaced.

Likewise, black market trade of the commodity is back to its old vibrancy.

Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo said the development is not only unfortunate but retrogressive.

Health authorities have since asked for security services to tighten the lockdown.

“We are worried about the number of people who are getting into towns because there is a possibility of a second wave of transmissions.

“And as such, we have engaged the security forces to step in to enforce the lockdown so that people stay at home,” said Dr Moyo.

National Response to Covid-19 chief co-ordinator, Dr Agnes Mahomva, also believes that violations of standing health guidelines cannot be tolerated.

“People need to be punished for violations if we are to win the war against this pandemic,” said Dr Mahomva.

Zimbabwe has managed to keep Covid-19 infections at low and manageable levels.

As of Friday, 51 people had tested positive while 18 had recovered, which meant there were 29 active cases.

Four people have lost their lives since the outbreak of the disease.

Apparently, people in most areas are dangerously letting their guard down.

While the coronavirus-induced lockdown has led to some discomfort owing to the disruptions in business activity, Government, Non-Governmental Organisations, the private sector and some individuals have been providing relief to less privileged members of society.

Worryingly though, there are individuals that travel to town just to loiter or sit in recreational parks.

Law enforcement agents need to double down on social control, while awareness campaigns on the ongoing threat have to be ratcheted up to ensure compliance with recommended health guidelines that are for the public good.

“It is not a challenge getting into town. I drop off just before the police checkpoint and complete the rest of the journey into town on foot,” said Nyasha Mapuranga, one of the street kids who provide
car wash and parking services in the capital.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said there were acting on lockdown violations.

“We have embarked on an operation targeting people that are violating lockdown regulations,” he said.

Similarly, city fathers intend to ensure sanity prevails.

Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said maintaining order was their priority.

“Most informal traders are complying with the lockdown. It is only a couple of individuals that create problems.

“However, we are monitoring the situation. Our team is on the ground working with police. Order will prevail,” declared Mr Chideme.

Health experts opine the lockdown, coupled with strides made in increasing testing capacity and creation of isolation facilities in all provinces throughout the country, is the reason why Zimbabwe has kept fairly low Covid-19 cases.

However, they warn the pandemic is not yet over.

Returning residents, particularly those that are running away from quarantine centres around the country before completing prescribed time in isolation, are complicating the fight against the pandemic.