Zimbabweans heeds lockdown measures

Traffic jam along Sam Nujoma Street in Harare yesterday as motorists try to beat the 6.30pm curfew
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Compliance with the enhanced Level Four lockdown announced by President Mnangagwa on Tuesday was largely in order yesterday with the whole of industry and commerce closing by 3.30pm as required and almost everyone managing to get home by the 6.30pm curfew.

The shorter business hours, designed to allow almost all workers and business people to make the curfew, and the longer curfew between 6.30pm and 6am which keeps all but essential workers indoors overnight and so slashes socialising, were two of the main measures announced by the President on Tuesday.

He also wanted 60 percent of workers to work from home and critically banned inter-city passenger transport, important considering the concentrations of infection in a handful of districts and the way that belt of infection has been spreading as people move around.

In Harare, the peak evening traffic jam moved up a couple of hours peaking at around 4pm as motorists hurried to beat the curfew, and the queues were building up at bus terminuses much earlier.

Public transporter ZUPCO did bring in its full fleet but the demand was high and buses were still moving after curfew, although the bulk of passengers had been coped with and the remainder, especially those needing two buses to get home, while going home after curfew were not that late.

However, the sudden withdrawal of the inter-city buses, did leave people stranded if they had been on a business or family errand, such as attending a funeral. 

At Mbudzi roundabout in Harare, which is usually a hive of activity with buses and private vehicles jostling to get passengers to Masvingo and Beitbridge, there were no buses in sight. Some haulage trucks and a few private vehicles were offering transport to travellers. The same was seen at Harare Showgrounds where travellers were waiting for transport to Bulawayo.

“Since morning we have been standing here hoping to get transport. There is not even one bus that came here and private cars are not carrying passengers. 

“The only vehicles offering transport are trucks and even then, they can only take a few people. I came to Harare on Monday and I now want to go back to Beitbridge where I stay and work,” said Ms Loveness Ganda.

Another traveller, who preferred anonymity, said: “I am travelling to Masvingo where I work and I have been waiting for more than an hour to get transport. Buses are not operating and I don’t know what I will do but I hope to get a lift soon.”

While shops closed at 3.30pm, and shopkeepers tend to be generally compliant with all laws, even the vendors were packing up at around that time. Generally with the enhanced lockdown keeping most business open, even if with shorter hours, and concentrating on cutting back on night movement that is difficult to monitor, business people were co-operating fully.

In the north of Mashonaland West, in the three districts of that province under an intensified local lockdown for two weeks before that was extended to the rest of the country, people and the authorities  practised what needed to be done.

Police were enforcing the inter-city movement ban at roadblocks along the Harare-Chirundu and Chinhoyi-Chegutu highways. But while uniformed officers patrolled Chinhoyi town enforcing the lockdown measures, illegal transporters found ways of loading passengers and circumventing the roadblocks along the major highways amid reports they were charging double the normal fares. 

In Masvingo, a few businesses opened before 8am while inter city buses were seen at key pick up points around 7am. As the day progressed, the inter-city buses had disappeared from the traditional pick up points with hundreds of travellers stranded as transport to places like Harare, Bulawayo and Gweru was hard to come by. Only private vehicles were picking up passengers.

Police patrolled the city and suburban areas to make sure people complied with the new timings. By 3.30pm the city centre was virtually deserted with all major shops and small businesses closing by the stipulated time. 

Some of the people who spoke to The Herald said they fully supported the tighter lockdown as Covid-19 cases continued to spike.

In Bindura and Shamva, commuter omnibuses initially appeared to be defiant but authorities moved in to enforce the travel bans. 

Mashonaland Central has been hit harder than in the past and recorded new 122 cases between Tuesday and yesterday with the number of active cases now at 582 and Bindura leading with 150 cases.

Almost all businesses had closed by 3pm in Beitbridge town in compliance with the new deadline. By the end of the day yesterday, only a few offices of essential service providers and freight forwarders remained open with a few workers. 

There was also high police visibility in the high-density suburbs and all the crime hot-spot areas. 

The situation was the same at the Beitbridge District Hospital where more hand washing equipment and screening personnel have been deployed at all entry and exit points. 

Demand for transport from the border town to other areas across the country was high as people who had been travelling were stranded and battled to get home.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi warned transporters to adhere to the ban on intercity travel saying police would enforce laid down regulations. 

“Transporters who will be found contravening Government’s inter-city passenger traffic ban will have their staff arrested and their buses impounded. 

“No Mushikashikas or pirate taxis will be tolerated. Any connivance between these illegal operators and members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police will be severely dealt with,” he said.