Zimbabwe yesterday began a 21-day nationwide lockdown, following South Africa in implementing tough anti-coronavirus measures that are likely to hurt an economy already suffering from hyperinflation and food shortages.
But unlike neighbouring South Africa, where many citizens defied calls to stay indoors and some clashed with security forces at the weekend, Zimbabweans mostly stayed home.
Zimbabwe’s police have a reputation for brutality and were yesterday manning checkpoints on highways into the capital, questioning the few motorists on the roads.
The main opposition party, the MDC Alliance, supports the lockdown and criticised the government for not imposing it earlier.
Zimbabwe has recorded just seven coronavirus cases and one death, but President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a televised address that citizens should take the restrictions on movement seriously.
“I want all of you to spend the next 21 days acting as if you already have the virus...would you want to infect your friends, would you want to infect your families, would you want to infect your countrymen? Of course not. So, keep your distance,” Mnangagwa said.
He said the security forces would enforce the lockdown “with a listening ear”.
The finance ministry said it had made available Z$500mn (US$20mn) and would unfreeze 4,000 posts in the health sector.
Central Harare’s streets were deserted yesterday.
Banks, government offices and businesses were shut.
In the poor township of Mbare, the inter-city bus rank was closed and rows of wooden stalls used by vegetable vendors abandoned.
A few blocks from the police station in the middle class suburb of Mabelreign, 73-year-old grandmother Angela Nerwande sat on an improvised stool selling vegetables on her stall.
“What will my grandchildren eat if I stay at home? At my age I am not afraid of dying. If they want to arrest me let them come,” she said.
In a statement, Zimbabwe Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “The law is very clear, those who don’t comply will be arrested and prosecuted.”
In Nigeria’s capital Abuja and the main city Lagos, those who could afford to stock up queued at shops ahead of a 14-day lockdown starting at 11pm yesterday.
Angola recorded its first two coronavirus deaths at the weekend, local news agency Angop reported.
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