Zimbabwe: Cross-Border Infections a Major Source of Worry

editorial

As coronavirus continues to wreak havoc, gaps in Zimbabwe's response to the pandemic are being exposed every day.

Recent cases of three Malawian illegal immigrants that tested positive for coronavirus after they were intercepted trying to cross into South Africa are a serious cause for concern.

The three cases took Zimbabwe's tally of infected people to 56 after two locals also tested positive on Friday.

A week ago six Zimbabwean and four Zambian truck drivers that crossed into the neighbouring country via Chirundu tested positive to coronavirus.

There were reports that as many as 90 illegal immigrants from Malawi had been intercepted in Zimbabwe on their way to South Africa in recent weeks.

The evidence of rising cross-border infections should be a source of serious discomfort for Zimbabwe, largely because of its porous borders and lack of preparedness to handle the coronavirus or Covid-19 outbreak.

Two months ago, countries in the region imposed lockdowns and closed their borders to slow down the spread of the virus, but because of failed economies, illegal immigrants from across the continent still find their way to South Africa through Zimbabwe.

A significant number of Zimbabweans are defying the lockdown regulations to buy food in South Africa, while others go to that country to buy stock for their informal businesses.

Foreigners travel via Zimbabwe because of its notoriously porous borders.

South Africa has emerged as one of the hotspots for coronavirus, which makes the illegal immigration a recipe for disaster.

Added to that headache, is the ever-increasing number of returning residents that are escaping from isolation centres.

The activities along Limpopo River -- where smuggling rings are making roaring business facilitating illegal entry to both Zimbabwe and South Africa -- need to be stopped forthwith.

Such activities are fuelled by unchecked corruption by immigration officials and security agents, who allow people to cross the border in violation of lockdown regulations.

The south-western parts of Zimbabwe, where this illegal immigration is rampant because of the location of the South African and Botswana borders, face a great risk of an explosion in cross-border cases.

Over two months after Zimbabwe recorded its first coronavirus case, the region still does not have a health facility that is properly equipped to handle coronavirus cases with work still underway to upgrade the Thorngrove Infectious Diseases Hospital and Ekusileni Medical Centre in Bulawayo.

This means the only viable way to stop a health catastrophe in that region is to prevent a surge in new infections that will overwhelm the health delivery system.

Controlling illegal immigration should rank very high in the list of priorities for those coordinating the country's response to the pandemic.

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