Zimbabwe: Lockdown Extended, Schools Reopening Delayed

President Mnangagwa yesterday extended by two more weeks the enhanced Level 4 lockdown, and under this level of lockdown schools remain closed, and promised tighter enforcement of rules while committing Government to dramatic acceleration of vaccinations.

This means that the extended 6.30pm to 6am curfew remains in place, business hours remain restricted to 8am to 3.30pm, intercity travel remains banned, social and religious gatherings remain banned with a 30-person limit at funerals, and, it was confirmed last night, schools must remain closed until the review in two weeks.

The extension of the tighter measures announced two weeks ago, which were built on a tightening a couple of weeks earlier with a ban on social and religious gatherings, were needed because of the recent sharp rise in new infections and deaths with 80 percent of new infections being the significantly more infectious Delta variant.

In the two weeks between June 29 and Monday this week, Zimbabwe saw 23 142 new infections and 487 deaths, figures that back the Government decision to extend the special measures.

Announcing the generally expected extension of existing measures at State House in Harare, the President said Zimbabwe was using a range of measures to contain and mitigate the Covid-19 infections, in line with WHO guidelines, including the ongoing national vaccination programme, which has been hailed as one of the best on the continent.

And he stressed that all Zimbabweans must follow the rules and advice in the lockdown so playing their part in containing the wave of infections.

"Unfortunately the many successes recorded in our Covid-19 responses have not been enough to stem the wave," he said.

"The recent surge in cases and deaths is a reminder that we need to do more. Government had anticipated that the lockdown measures would assist in reducing the spread in infections and ultimately to halt this surge. Instead, the current data are indicating a worrisome trend."

The present surge in new cases and consequent deaths was due to a number of factors including complacency by communities in adhering to ordinary lockdown measures such as the proper wearing of face masks, hand washing and social distancing, as well as ignoring some of the new measures, such as the extended curfew and intercity travel ban.

A particular new problem was the highly transmissible Delta variant, which now was causing more than 80 percent of fresh cases. This variant, which arose in India some months ago, is marked by being far easier to transmit from an infected person, hence the need for more determined efforts to follow the WHO advice.

While experts do not see it as more deadly than the older variants, and have found out that vaccines help to the same degree, its more infectious nature means there are more infections and so more deaths.

Besides wanting full compliance with older and newer lockdown measures, the Government was accelerating the national vaccination programme using the large deliveries of vaccine doses already in the country and expected shortly.

"The plan to maintain the current Level 4 will make it possible for the immediate acceleration of the vaccination programme throughout the country. The programme will now be taken to communities, making vaccination easily accessible to those seeking this essential service," said President Mnangagwa.

The two million vaccines received last week were enough to vaccinate one million people, he noted, and the accelerated vaccination strategy needed to be implemented rapidly to protect more people.

But vaccination acceleration had to go hand-in-hand with compliance on lockdown measures, he stressed.

"Whilst vaccination roll-out is key during this two-week lockdown extension and beyond, strengthened enforcement of all lockdown measures is going to play a very critical role. All lockdown measures will therefore be stringently enforced," he said.

Areas of focus, President Mnangagwa, said included enforcement of proper wearing of face masks, sanitising and hand washing with soap under running water, decongestion of all workplaces, avoiding gatherings, controlling the number of customers in supermarkets and trading areas, strict enforcement of the ban on intercity travel and immediate introduction and implementation of deterrent fines and withdrawal of licences of offenders.

"As already stated, the country has made a lot of progress in the fight against Covid-19. We however, need to continue strengthening our implementation and ensure that all prevention measures and lockdown measures are strictly adhered to," said President Mnangagwa.

As of Monday, Zimbabwe has recorded 70 426 cumulative cases and 2 236 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic in March last year.

HIGHLIGHTS

Level 4 lockdown measures extended by 2 weeks

Highly transmissible Delta variant now circulating in communities

80 percent of new cases in Zimbabwe due to the Delta variant

Complacency contributing to spike in cases

Vaccination going on well, to be taken to communities

All lockdown measures to be stringently enforced

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