Zimbabwe began a 21-day nationwide lockdown on Monday, following neighbour South Africa in implementing some of the world’s toughest anti-Covid-19 coronavirus measures likely to hurt an economy already suffering hyperinflation and food shortages.
But unlike in South Africa, where many citizens defied calls to stay indoors with some clashing with security forces at the weekend, Zimbabweans mostly stayed home.
The country has recorded just seven cases and one death.
Central Harare’s streets were deserted. Banks, government offices and businesses were shut. Zimbabwean police, who have a reputation for brutality, manned checkpoints on highways into Harare and questioned the few motorists, a Reuters reporter saw.
In the poor township of Mbare in Harare, vegetable markets and the inter-city bus rank were closed and rows of wooden stalls used by vegetable vendors abandoned.
At Nenyere Flats in Mbare, six men sat outside their flat drinking gin.
Fox Dhalu, a 36-year-old father of three, complained that some shops had hiked prices over the weekend.
“Seriously, does this pandemic also stop people from moving around? The government gave us short notice to prepare for this coronavirus lockdown. We are very angry about this,” he said.
Shops have been exempted from closing but most had not opened by mid-morning on Monday.
A few blocks from the police station in the middle class suburb of Mabelreign, 73-year-old grandmother Angela Nerwande sat on an improvised stool selling vegetables on her stall.
“What will my grandchildren eat if I stay at home? I have to continue working,” she said.
“At my age I am not afraid of dying. If they want to arrest me let them come.”
In a statement, police spokesperson assistant commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “The law is very clear, those who don’t comply will be arrested and prosecuted.”
Many of South Africa’s most vulnerable have struggled to maintain the lockdown, and people in poor, overcrowded townships have continued to go out and mingle, in some cases prompting security forces to use water cannons to force them inside.
The SABC aired videos of soldiers humiliating people, making them do squats.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the channel the soldiers should not use excessive force.
“We want our security services to partner with our communities to stop the spread of coronavirus,” she said.
In a bid to ease the impact on some of its poorest, South Africa relaxed restrictions on some taxis during rush hour and made early social security payments to the elderly.
South Africa has 1 280 cases, and two deaths, as of Monday compared with an African total of 4 894.
In West Africa, in Nigeria’s two main cities – Lagos and the capital, Abuja – those who could afford to stock up queued at shops ahead of a 14-day lockdown starting at 10pm.