Oppah Muchinguri was cheered by supporters of her Zanu-PF party as she appeared to celebrate the disease’s spread through Europe and the United States, causing widespread panic and financial markets upheaval.
“Coronavirus is the work of God punishing countries that imposed sanctions on us,” Muchinguri said on Saturday, speaking at an event organised by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Collaborators Association (ZILWACO) in Chinhoyi, 120km northwest of Harare.
“They’re now keeping indoors. Their economies are screaming, just like they did to ours. (Donald) Trump should know that he is not God.”
Alex Magaisa, a former adviser to the late former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said Muchinguri’s comments were “ignorant and callous.”
“Her disgusting statement showcases the incompetence, ignorance and callousness of the regime. She is the Zanu-PF chairperson. She thinks coronavirus is a Western disease. It’s primitive thinking and cheap politicking. She doesn’t appreciate that this is a global pandemic,” Magaisa wrote on Twitter.
“How does she face her Chinese counterparts, where the pandemic began when she makes such insulting and insensitive statements? If we get affected, as most countries are, we will need a lot of help. But she is busy mocking those very countries that are battling the pandemic.”
The new coronavirus, which causes a disease called Covid-19, had killed 5,839 people in over 110 countries by 8AM on Sunday after it was first detected in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province late last year. Some 156,798 infections have been reported worldwide, including in 22 African countries, although 75,937 of that number made a successful recovery.
Symptoms for the coronavirus are a dry cough and fever leading to shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
The virus can spread person-to-person within six feet through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also possible for the virus to remain on a surface or object, be transferred by touch and enter the body through the mouth, nose or eyes, according to scientists.
It can take two to 14 days for a person to develop symptoms after initial exposure to the virus. The average is about five days.
It appears a person who is infected with the coronavirus spreads it to more people than the seasonal flu, making it more infectious.
There is currently no known vaccine that can be used to treat the new coronavirus, although clinical trials are currently underway and being accelerated.
Zimbabwe’s health ministry maintains that it has not detected a positive case of the coronavirus, which has apparently given an impression to officials from the ruling Zanu-PF party that the country is immune.
On March 13, presidential spokesman George Charamba, writing on Twitter, claimed that the coronavirus was only spreading through rich communities.
“Why am I beginning to get the sense coronavirus is a disease of affluence? Am I wrong?” Charamba tweeted in reaction to a story from Britain’s Guardian newspaper which said Sophie Trudeau, the wife of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had contracted coronavirus.
Challenged on his claim, Charamba said he thought his comments “could be a discussion point given the geography and class tendencies of the pandemic.”
He added: “But you notice it’s been hitting high class, patricians of those developed economies? Seriously, except possibly in Asia where demographic profile remains unclear, this appears the pattern. No?”
The World Health Organisation has expressed fears that a major outbreak in Africa could wipe out whole communities owing to the continent’s poor health facilities.
In severe cases, coronavirus patients typically need ventilators for breathing – equipment that is either in short supply or completely not available at most of Zimbabwe’s neglected public hospitals.
Coronavirus deaths – which have so far occurred mostly in older people or individuals with other immune system weakening conditions like diabetes, cancer and HIV – are caused by acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which causes already-damaged lungs to fill with fluid, and makes breathing difficult.
Unlike pneumonia, there is no pharmaceutical treatment for ARDS, making a potential shortage of ventilators so dangerous: They are the last-ditch supportive treatment for the coronavirus, while the body heals itself.