Social distancing is one of the essential practices to curb the rapid spread of the novel Coronavirus pandemic. The other preventive practices include sanitisation, constant washing of hands, daily temperature checks, and testing.
By Taurai Mabhachi
But evidently, the Zimbabwean poor consider the COVID-19 preventive measures to be a luxury. The reason for this is not because of ignorance – but because of a lack of means. One can take the example of social distancing.
According to the COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment (National Lockdown) Amendment Order, 2020 No. 5, during this period people ought to maintain a distance of one meter apart. Yet if one makes a cursory survey of the queues of commuters waiting to board the buses of the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company, one can see that social distancing is absent. The worst examples of this lack of social distancing in Harare occur at bus termini like the Copacabana, Fourth Street, Market Square, and the Charge Office, among others.
Even citizens boarding privately owned vehicles face the same challenge of a lack of social distancing during travel to work. For example, a Honda Fit is normally seen carrying a maximum of 6 persons, four at the back and two in front. This is also true of private vehicles ferrying persons to and from work: they are generally overloaded, putting drivers’ lives, and those of their family members, friends, and workmates at risk. This practice clearly defeats the essence and importance of social distancing, which has been scientifically proven to prevent the rapid spread of the virus.
Further to this, sanitisation is another key aspect meant to mitigate the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Still, a majority of Zimbabweans, especially those earning below the poverty line, cannot afford sanitisers for their homes. Many Zimbabwean families lead a life of penury and their dream of adequately providing for their families is beyond their reach; this has the effect that essentials such as schooling and nutritious meals are viewed as luxuries. In such circumstances, anti-viral sanitary products are also luxuries – despite the dangers faced, and the ease with which hand and surface sanitisers can protect families.
The are two types of testing that are normally administered: rapid testing, and taking blood samples. It has been proved beyond any shadow of doubt that, although they are cheaper, rapid tests often deliver misleading results: people who test negative are often in fact positive and carry the virus. A far better method is the use of blood samples that are tested in laboratories. But while this method gives accurate results for the persons tested, it does so at a very high cost of US$60-65 per test.
Only wealthier Zimbabweans – those who are part of the ruling elite, captains of industry, prosperous entrepreneurs, directors of well-funded NGOs, those working for embassies, or persons getting foreign currency remittances – can afford to pay for laboratory blood tests. This exposes the glaring inequalities confronting the majority of the population in protecting themselves from the virus. It is also clear that the very persons who cannot afford sanitisers at home form the majority of those using overcrowded public and private transport.
The poor are also unable to afford adequate healthcare should they contract the virus. To cite a single example, the oxygen necessary to assist a person with respiratory failure is prohibitively expensive – and most public health facilities lack oxygen supplies in the first place. Even private hospitals appear to be experiencing a critical shortage of respirators for COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe. All patients, but especially the poor, are this at risk of dying even in hospital. The poor are living on a knife edge-during this pandemic.
It is expected that even if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, the Zimbabwean poor will be among the last to receive it, as other countries and sectors of the population would receive priority. The previous experience of the supply of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to combat HIV/AIDS suggests this is true in that ARVs were originally only accessible by haves, while the have-nots died in droves. We need to urge healthcare providers to ensure equality of access to anti-Coronavirus measures to all in Zimbabwe, regardless of their class.