Zimbabwe: Lockdown Will Allow New Effective Measures

editorial

The ongoing lockdown provides a perfect opportunity to develop and put in place measures that will have to be taken as it is lifted, possible in phases, and while some administering or running essential services are seizing the opportunity, others seem not to care.

We need to remember that Zimbabwe, and to a larger extent South Africa, went into a lockdown far earlier than other countries.

We went into a lockdown not because Covid-19 was raging across the nation, but because we wanted to minimise its impact.

Cases are rising, as expected, but because of the lockdown, we know fairly who their contacts are, basically the people they live with, and can impose effective and specific quarantine on these people.

So at the end of the 21 days, we should know everyone who was infected before the lockdown and know who their limited contacts are for further monitoring.

But that is not going to be the end of the story.

Covid-19 will still be a global pandemic and even with our travel and entry restrictions, we cannot cut ourselves off from the rest of the planet.

So we will be highly alert and continue taking serious and effective measures, with greater freedom possible if people can be trusted to follow the steps that the authorities reckon are required.

Police have expressed concern over the more than 2 000 people arrested in the first week for breaches of lockdown rules.

Well, police have to be worried about every breach of the law, but with a population of around 15 million, with 10 million at least of an age that can commit an offence, it seems that President Mnangagwa summed it up better when he expressed his admiration for his fellow citizens for almost unanimously following the rules.

And this is where we can now be taking steps to see how we can cope as the lockdown is lifted.

Take produce and farmers markets, recognised as being essential if families are to eat properly. In Mutare, the provincial and city authorities planned the re-opening of Sakubva market carefully, starting off with a limited number of farmers each day, to see how things worked out before allowing more, and with police and municipal security staff present to ensure that simple hygiene and social spacing rules were followed.

Nothing complicated, just applied good sense.

Harare just reopened its larger Mbare Musika market. Yet the same could be done in the capital as was done in the provinces. Better order imposed, and farmers and buyers expected to obey simple hygiene rules.

Cheap effective sanitisers are now being produced in bulk using local raw materials, but even if still short, a bucket of water and a bar of soap is just as good.

The willingness of people to follow good advice can be seen in mealie meal queues where a supermarket manager has thought things through.

People tended to queue pressed against each other not because they wanted to ignore advice on social distances, but because they were afraid, with good reason, of queue jumpers.

Where a manager steps outside, tells the queue there must be a metre or so social distancing and then leaves a security guard who will take action against a queue jumper, and make sure they get nothing, everyone happily spaces out.

Many essential businesses have managed to acquire one of those small simple temperature gauges and check staff and customers as they enter.

Even if we have to buy a couple of containers of these, and some are given in aid, the factories that make them are in full production and a Zimbabwe-sized order can be made up quickly.

If every business has one on each entrance, and those entering markets or schools are asked to queue for a quick scan before entering, we can avoid a lot of grief later.

The same essential businesses now have bulk supplies of sanitiser and give each customer a squirt on the hands as they enter.

You cannot buy food now with contaminated hands. This, and temperature scanning, obviously must continue for some time after the lockdown.

One major area of economic hardship will be the informal economy, where so many earn their living. But the long-neglected management and regulation of that sector now needs to end. Mutare again provides an example.

They are keeping a limited number of city centre vegetable vendors, rather than trying to ship these out of sight and out of mind. But they now want tight regulation, social distancing and better hygiene.

Other cities could do the same.

The private sector has been building flea markets, with Old Mutual setting new standards of quality and quantity in its giant market complex near the Simon Muzenda Street bus terminus, although better advertising and marketing is needed.

But Harare City Council could make it easier for property owners to convert empty premises to well-managed and well-regulated markets, and it could start doing what it should have been doing decades ago, finding appropriate open space near terminuses for proper markets, with spaced stalls.

But it can still use temporary structures as it and the private sector develop something better.

Regulation rather than banning can work.

Oddly enough Covid-19, and the changes in custom and society it produces, can accelerate our development and produce something far better than we had if we start thinking now and push through intelligent solutions to our health dangers, which will have the additional benefit of cleaner, more orderly cities and towns.

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