Zimbabwe: Escaping From the Coronavirus - Lamentations of a Zimbabwean Student

(file photo).
9 March 2020

Lanterns were displayed, doors were decorated with spring festival couplets, a common sight that we often anticipate during the days leading to the Chinese Spring festival.

This time around, however, there seemed to be a glitch amid the excitement for the holiday.

There was a sombre wind blowing throughout the country, people were dying, thousands were being infected and Wuhan city was on lockdown, it wasn't a happy new year after all...

It all started as a rumour that we did not take seriously at first until one day the death toll started rising.

We all had plans for the Chinese new year holidays, travelling, going out or just being together as Zimbabweans just to celebrate the beginning of the Chinese new year. Schools closed for the holidays and so did companies.

The silence in the city wasn't anything new since many people travel to their hometowns during the Spring festival but there was something strange about the atmosphere, no one was in a jovial mood.

The spring festival decorations that were hanging outside in the cold weather were overshadowed by big red banners written in white; "always put on a mask, wash your hands, avoid crowded places, observe temperature checks... "

Some shops were closed and the few ones that were still open were not restocking, I remember even onions ran out!

Within a short period of time, there were temperature checks all over the city. You go to the mall the security guards and health officials check your temperatures before you get in the supermarket, you get back to your apartment and your temperature is checked again before you enter your apartment.

As the virus kept spreading, restriction of movement was imposed. We were banned from visiting each other in our places of residence, which was a painful measure taken and I remember getting mad at the security guards but all these were put in place to fight the rapid spread of the virus.

All we had to do was to stay indoors and only go outside if it was very important to do so and it got me thinking, can you keep an African man locked indoors when he could be out there in the streets hustling to feed his family?

My family was getting worried each day and the slightest delay in responding to their messages would get their blood pressures shooting sky high so I decided to come back to my beloved Zimbabwe.

Most outbound flights from China were cancelled and the few left were either very expensive or had ridiculous transits but that was the least of worries.

I got to Beijing International airport and I went through a lot of checking points and the trained personnel who were checking temperatures were all wearing protective clothing and ready to take away those who were infected or suspected.

Everyone was putting on a mask and the airport was almost empty, there were very short queues but it longer to get served as the airport attendants were taking their time to scan everyone thoroughly.

Flight attendants were also wearing protective clothing throughout the flight from Beijing to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Upon arrival in Ethiopia, temperature checks were also done and there were quite a number of people still putting on their masks. I only started seeing different levels of safety precautions as I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya.

Most of the airport attendants were not putting on masks though they were checking temperatures and I wondered if they know how serious Covid-19 is.

As I got to Kamuzu Airport in Malawi, it felt like they had never heard of the Covid-19 virus before. No one was putting on a mask and there were no temperature checks yet the flight from Nairobi still had travellers from China like me.

Malawian Air landed just after British Airways and Kenyan Air so now Robert Gabriel Mugabe International was graced with travellers from 3 different flights at almost the same time.

We got to a health checkpoint and everyone's temperature got checked while they were asking where each passenger was coming from. If one was honest enough to say China or any of the affected countries, they would ask them to get their hands sanitized and then fill in a form that had questions whether or not one has been to the affected regions.

Not a bad idea at all but it is very worrying that after submitting the form they were not checking the passports to confirm whether or not the information provided by the passenger is true. Also, the person collecting the forms was not covering himself in case one of us was infected.

After submitting the forms everyone was free to go outside.

Through my journey I have realized that Africa is still relaxed in terms of enforcing measures to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, there is still a large number of travellers from China and other affected regions but we let them in to mix with other people without protecting ourselves and making sure that they are not carrying the Covid-19 virus that has killed thousands.

There are still a lot of people who believe that the Coronavirus does not affect Africans, there is no evidence to prove this so we need to protect ourselves.

I have lived in Beijing, China for 3years and I have always believed that Chinese people are strong enough to tackle problems that come their way but this dark cloud that has covered the land seems to be taking a toll on them and as Africans, we need to be very cautious.

China is our all-weather friend and we stand with her during these tough times but as Zimbabweans, we need to think in the best interests of our people because we are not financially and mentally prepared to fight the Coronavirus if it finds its way into our country.

We have a lot on our plate already and Covid-19 should not be added to our problems


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