Many Zimbabweans stepped into the new year with dull and sad faces. All the dark episodes of 2020, with all the grief and death seem to have spilled to 2021 with Covid-19 arguably the worst nightmare.
This time, it appears it is more deadly and has a strong appetite to devour judging by the soaring numbers of infections and deaths.
After the reckless partying that ushered merrymakers into the New Year, authorities had to act and indeed, the lockdown was the only viable action.
The swift reaction by the government to impose a lockdown that includes closure of bars, bottlestores, gyms and other facilities could not have come at a better time.
It was timely and life-saving but of course with its own negativity.
In the last week alone, Zimbabwe recorded 1 342 COVID-19 cases and 29 deaths, representing the highest number of cases recorded to date.
On January 2, 2021, 407 new cases were recorded and eight deaths and such numbers are nothing to ignore.
The reality we all feared is with us now.
COVID-19 is a killer and is ravaging communities hence the need to stop the recklessness that had taken centre stage.
The lockdown will, however, mean nothing if there is no proper enforcement and this time, vigilance is needed by enforcers.
Of course we are not saying the military and police should use maximum force that borders on human rights violations like we witnessed last year.
Soaring cases, particularly in the last two months have risen to terrifying levels and we have been waiting for the government to act.
Government was relaxed in that period with some of its officials posting on their social media platforms pictures of themselves partying, completely oblivious of COVID-19 regulations.
That was inexcusable recklessness by Cabinet ministers at a time the people needed to be shepherded into responsible behaviour.
As if such carelessness by ministers was not enough, President Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed hundreds of Zanu PF supporters in Chivi, Masvingo province, exposing them to the deadly disease.
Well, that is now in the past but the point remains that it is incumbent upon the leadership to lead by example so that the followers will follow responsibly.
We also witnessed towards the end of the year a “super-spreader” event in the form of a chaotic MDC-T extraordinary congress and that Thokozani Khupe was immediately taken ill after the indaba.
This is no longer a joke and the deaths, some of them of prominent people in the last two days, should be enough lessons for authorities to act responsibly.
Thankfully, the lockdown is a step in the right direction.
What is, however, of concern is that there is no provision for social protection for vulnerable groups such as members in the informal sector.
Clearly, the government has not drawn lessons from the first lockdown despite the announcement of the existence of a cushioning fund, it did not benefit the majority of informal traders, amid reports that influential politicians and civil servants were the bulk of recipients. In the few cases where informal traders received the allowance, its value had long been eroded by inflation.
It is my well-considered view that lockdown measures should be implemented along with increased spending on health services and remuneration for our long-suffering health personnel and the introduction of a robust social protection scheme that has the input of all informal sector representative groups, as a matter of urgency.
It will, however, come to naught if it ends just as a lockdown without putting in place other measures including availing ventilators in hospitals and improving testing for the virus.
In these trying times, we must not forget those in the frontline, the health workers who are daily exposed to COVID-19 as they try to save lives.
The government needs to act and provide all the necessary support.
It is a fight we must win together, and we will.
I urge Zimbabweans to take due care and observe World Health Organisation protocols on COVID-19, that is to mask up, sanitise and maintain social distance. As we have seen, this disease does not discriminate.
Edith Chibhamu is a business woman and a Human Rights Activist.* *_You can follow her on her Instagram: @official_queendee