A lack of hospital beds, a dire economy and crocodiles: dealing with Zim's hard lockdown

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Trucks parked at Beit Bridge border post.
Trucks parked at Beit Bridge border post.
Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu

  • Authorities feared the country's health facilities would not cope if cases continued to rise, and it could run out of beds
  • While essential businesses such as supermarkets are now compelled to close at 15:00, nonessential businesses are expected to shut their doors for the next 30 days
  • Informal cross-border traders will be badly affected by the new regulations, which could lead to deaths at 'illegal crossing points on the crocodile-infested Limpopo River', according to the Informal Economy Agenda

Zimbabwe started its a 30 day level four lockdown on Tuesday a move that is expected to save lives but have dire consequences on the economy and livelihoods. 

In announcing the lockdown measures on Saturday evening, Vice President Costantino Chiwenga said the move was necessitated by a spike in Covid-19 cases and deaths over the festive season which almost doubled the number of infections recorded throughout 2019.

On Sunday, the southern African country recorded 774 Covid-19 cases, a daily record. This was up from 407 cases the previous day, which was also a record daily high.

Authorities feared the country's health facilities would not cope if cases continued to rise.

Using his Twitter handle, just before announcement of lockdown measures, government spokesperson, Nick Mangwana said the country was "being overwhelmed and overrun by this virus".

"We hear UK beds are overwhelmed by Covid19. Well, that's them. They say in SA, hospital admission thresholds are now quite high- that's them. But, let me tell you about our own situation, don't catch the virus if you can avoid it. We are being overwhelmed and overrun by this virus," tweeted Mangwana.

On Saturday, Mangwana tweeted again, saying if cases continued to rise, the country could "easily run out of beds".

"To put our situation into perspective, you see, we recorded nearly 500 positive new cases in 2 days. If it so happens that these new cases need a hospital bed, then you can see how we can easily run out of beds. And in those 2 days we have lost 9 people and much more in a week."  

The hospital situation was corroborated by Dr Solwayo Ngwenya who is CEO of Mpilo Hospital the largest hospital in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city.

"Right now hour hospitals that are meant to handle severe cases of Covid-19 are not yet complete. So we can only manage mild cases. Any severe cases in public hospitals we have nowhere to put them," Ngwenya told state-owned broadcaster ZBC.

Impact on Economy

While health experts believe rising cases and the constrained situations at health facilities justifies the lockdown, economists are bracing for the worst.

Economist Brains Muchemwa said the lockdown would have dire consequences for the economy, with the major impact focused on government revenue collections.

While essential businesses such as supermarkets are now compelled to close at 15:00, nonessential businesses such as clothing retailers, general dealers, among others, are expected to completely shut their doors for the next 30 days.

"The lockdown will impact on government revenue collections which will have implications on government's social spending and the 2021 national budget targets and obligations," said Muchemwa.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Henry Ruzvidzo said it is still early to determine the level of impact the lockdown will have, as the business representative body is still in discussion with the government.

"We are still consulting with the ministry of industry and commerce to see which businesses are going to be impacted."

Farai Mutambanengwe, executive officer of the SME Association of Zimbabwe said the impact on business will definitely be negative and will worsen an already difficult situation.

Mutambanengwe said the lockdown is now a livelihood issue as people in the informal sector do not have savings to fall back on. 

"No one expected to start the year with a lockdown, so this is a cause for concern."

The Informal Economy Agenda coalition also issued a statement saying informal cross-border traders will be badly affected by the new regulations.

"This will undoubtedly lead to loss of life at illegal crossing points on the crocodile-infested Limpopo River," reads part of the statement. 

"It would have been preferable if licenced traders were allowed to continue operating with strict Covid-19 protocols compliance."  

The situation is likely to be made worse by the chaotic situation at the Beitbridge border post.

While the lockdown measures prohibit cross border traders from travelling, those transporting commercial cargo into Zimbabwe and intending to cross back into South Africa have not found it easy.

Media reports claimed that Zimbabwean border authorities at Beitbridge had told thousands of Zimbabweans returning to South Africa after holidays that only those with permits or SA citizens will be allowed through. 

A Fin24 contact at the border confirmed the chaotic situation on the Zimbabwean side of the border. 

The curfew on the South African side between 21:00 and 06:00 will also mean more delays and congestion at the border. 

Commercial cargo is however still being cleared on a 24-hour basis.

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