AFRICA/ZIMBABWE - The coronavirus emergency exacerbates the economic crisis

Thursday, 16 April 2020 economy   coronavirus   poverty   healthcare  

Harare (Agenzia Fides) - The lockdown has been imposed in Zimbabwe until April 19. Only health workers can go to work. All gatherings are prohibited. Religious ceremonies and funerals with more than fifty people are also prohibited. Faced with the first contagions, President Emmerson Mnangagwa immediately tried to minimize contacts among people. However, the epidemic seems to be slowly creeping into the country. "According to official statistics - explains Brian MacGarry, a Zimbabwean Jesuit - we have only seventeen Covid-19 cases, and three deaths. But nobody believes this data. It is feared that the number of people infected is higher".
"The government - continues Father MacGarry - has sent the army to the streets to enforce the lockdown. This measure could, however, permanently block the economy and cause a further crisis. Forcing people working in the informal sector to stay at home means condemning them to death. I fear there will be riots to which law enforcement agencies will respond with violence".
In the face of the new emergency, the health system is already collapsing. There are no more beds in Intensive Care Units, lack of medication, but also personal protective equipment (face masks, gloves… etc.) needed to protect doctors and nurses from possible infection.
In March, public sector hospital doctors went on strike on Wednesday to ask for protective equipment. The president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, Tawanda Zvakada, said hundreds of doctors are at "high risk".
The Episcopal Conference of Zimbabwe asked the government to "step up efforts to combat the pandemic considering that the country's health sector is not in good shape and it lacks the equipment and drugs needed to treat ordinary diseases". "Now - observe the Bishops - vigorous efforts are needed to combat and prevent this pandemic, which if not managed with care could mean disaster for the entire nation where hospital facilities are not fully equipped. Our only line of defense is prevention. We try to be proactive and work hard to save lives.
In this context of closure, some Bishops have postponed Holy Thursday Mass. "The majority of the population, 90% Christian - continues Father Brian - attended the celebrations and rites of Holy Week through live streaming on the web and on television".
The epidemic reaches the country in a very difficult moment. The nation still faces the difficult economic and social conditions left by Robert Mugabe, the president who led the nation to independence and ruled it for 38 years. The disastrous agrarian reform implemented in the year 2000 led to a collapse of agricultural production and the processing industry. Today the nearly 17 million inhabitants are facing a dramatic situation: 95% unemployment, an inflation rate above 500%, over 70% of the population below the poverty line, serious political instability and trampled rights. Everyone expected President Mnangagwa to introduce policies that would favor an economic recovery given the resources of our country, but the economic parameters have worsened in the past two years and inflation is now close to 600%. (EC) (Agenzia Fides, 16/4/2020)