Zimbabwe extends coronavirus lockdown 'indefinitely'

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has extended a nationwide lockdown meant to control the spread of coronavirus, though the restrictions will be reviewed every two weeks.

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In a live broadcast on Saturday, Mnangagwa said the measure would remain in place "for an indefinite period", adding that "the country needs to ease out of the lockdown in a strategic and gradual manner".

He said informal street markets, where millions of Zimbabweans make a living, would remain shut while the government consulted health specialists on how to reopen them safely.

But businesses such as manufacturers, supermarkets and banks, which have been allowed to continue operating, will see their operating hours extended from a maximum of six hours to more than eight hours between 08:00 (06:00 GMT) and 16:30 (14:30 GMT).

Mnangagwa said the hundreds of Zimbabwean migrants returning home every week, mainly from South Africa and Botswana, will have to undergo a 21-day quarantine in school and college buildings set aside for the purpose.

The president said only students writing final examinations this year would be allowed to resume classes, but did not say when. The government is still working on plans to reopen schools in phases.

The drastic restrictions have so far borne fruit as coronavirus transmission has not been widespread and numbers remain lower than the initial projections, Mnangagwa said.

Zimbabwe imposed its lockdown on 30 March and has recorded 44 confirmed coronavirus cases and four related deaths.

Mnangagwa said the World Health Organisation had classified coronavirus transmission in Zimbabwe as "sporadic", with a low number of cases and no discernible clusters.

"This may suggest that, despite the small numbers tested, our country might have a reduced Covid-19 trajectory," he said.

Doctors and experts have warned that Zimbabwe's poorly equipped health service could not cope with a severe coronavirus outbreak.

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