PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday said he was under pressure to lift the national lockdown and re-open the country’s ailing economy, but indicated that his priority is to save lives first before the economy.
This comes as the number of coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in Zimbabwe has risen to 37, with doctors warning that authorities should forestall a health catastrophe by embarking on mass testing of people and increase surveillance at ports of entry in the wake of rising incidence of coronavirus through local transmission.
Speaking during a presentation of Covid-19 donations by various local companies held at the State House in Harare yesterday, Mnangagwa said the government had studied the World Health Organisation(WHO)’s measures on how to prevent the spread of the deadly Covid-19 and decided to implement a nationwide lockdown as one measure.
“We decided to study the recommendations of the World Health Organisation and we felt some of the recommendations we could adopt them as tools to fight this pandemic. This includes the lockdown. The lockdown means that we are putting the preservation of life as a priority.
“But the opposite of that we are also exposing our fragile economy and the impact of the pandemic in terms of our industry, and our economy being attacked because of the lockdown. We are a country without reserves which depends on what we produce.
“It is critically important that if we preserve life, a day might come where we can say the pandemic is behind us, now let us look at reconstructing our economy,” Mnangagwa said.
“I know I have so much pressure from some of you who are here and some who are not here who feel that I should do what Trump is doing. There are those who feel that we should open up. There are those who say before the pandemic people died, what is the difference?
“But I think that it is critically important that where we know we can put in measures to mitigate against massive deaths in our country. We should choose to save lives than to lose them.
“Although it is my policy to say production, production, production, now we must say life-saving, life-saving, and life-saving. Post life-saving, we can go for production,” he added.
Mnangagwa further indicated that he was considering extending the 11-member inter-ministerial taskforce set up to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic in an effort to enhance the country’s preparedness.
“We set up a task force headed by one of my vice presidents, Kembo Mohadi. It’s constituted of many ministers. But I was thinking here today that it’s necessary to broaden it. I think we need to broaden it to include the public sector, private sector, churches, youth and women’s organisations representatives.
“I don’t think the government has a monopoly of ideas. It’s neither by design and accident that we are where we are. So, we should realise that the more we have people at the table, the more we are exposed to wisdom,” Mnangagwa said.
The national lockdown, expected to end on May 17, was first put in place on March 30, 2020 and has since been extended twice, with Mnangagwa citing that the country had not yet met conditions set down by WHO to lift the lockdown during the first extension.
After the first extension, Mnangagwa added an additional two weeks of the lockdown on May 1, but allowed formal businesses to reopen under the condition that they test their employees and clear them of Covid-19 and adhere to strict measures, including conducting temperature checks, observing social distancing and wearing face masks.
This came as industry was raising concern that the continued national lockdown and closure of industry would result in a complete breakdown of the country’s ailing economy.
Meanwhile, various organisations, including OK Zimbabwe, Population Services Zimbabwe (PSZ), Bravura Zimbabwe, Chicken Slice, ZimGold, Zinwa, Meikles, Allied Timbers, Nestle, Zimbabwe Ezekiel Guti University (Zegu), and Pazia Mining donated a consignment of goods and personal protective clothing and equipment (PPEs) worth over $5 million and over $4 million cash towards the fight against Covid-19.
Some of the items donated were two ambulances, four ventilators, 30 tonnes of cooking oil, gloves, surgical and reusable face masks, disinfecting booths, oversize shoes, goggles and plastic aprons.
This comes as the country is currently experiencing shortages in PPEs with frontline workers threatening to embark on a strike as a result of this.
Speaking during the handover ceremony, Chicken Slice chief executive officer Tawanda Mutyebere bemoaned the high prices being charged by producers of PPEs.
“We are committed to availing personal protective clothing and goods to enhance the fight against the coronavirus. However, some of the suppliers of PPEs are taking advantage of the situation and are charging exorbitant prices.
“President, we are hoping that you can look into that matter to ensure that prices are reduced so that we can procure more materials to assist in the fight against the pandemic,” Mutyebere.
Zegu vice chancellor Christopher Chetsanga said it was important for the private and public sector to come together and pull resources to stop the spread of Covid-19.