REPORTS that hundreds of people have escaped quarantine centres are both disturbing and disappointing, looking at the progress Zimbabwe in managing the coronavirus pandemic in the last few months.
By Tuesday this week, 120 people had escaped from Covid-19 quarantine centres in the country, posing a serious danger to millions of people under lockdown, as part of a litany of measures that Government put in place to stop the further spread of the virus.
In the last few months, Zimbabwe has been receiving returning residents, who were living in different countries across the globe, including from those countries that are hotspots, after the pandemic rendered the majority of them jobless.
Forced with prospects of abject poverty and destitution, the majority of them are trickling back home as life in their adopted countries is increasingly becoming difficult.
Once they arrive, the law prescribes that all returning residents be subjected to screening and testing, including 21-day mandatory quarantine.
Those who would have been quarantined are also subject to tests on day eight in quarantine and upon the completion of the mandatory three-week isolation centre.
However, it is disappointing that the returnees who are coming from different countries hounded by Covid-19 at the benevolence of the State by virtue that they are Zimbabweans, are brazenly ignoring measures in place, by escaping well before the stipulated time.
Even the manner they are escaping is highly suspicious and calls for urgent investigations into the issues to establish how groups of people could have made good escape without those on guard, noticing any anomaly.
Recently, 18 returnees escaped a quarantine facility at Mkoba Teachers College in Gweru, leaving many baffled, considering that security was tight at the place.
Through his micro-blogging account on Twitter, the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary Mr Nick Mangwana wondered how the returnees made good their escape from the facility, which had a long security fence.
“18 returnees are missing at Mkoba Teachers College Quarantine Centre in Gweru. These are 15 men, three women and a small baby. There is a 2 metre wall and a razor wire? Bribed gate security?” Mr Mangwana queried.
It is equally sad that when they escape, the returnees are welcomed and harboured by relatives and friends, fully aware of the danger they pose to neighbouring communities and society at large.
Already the country is faced with a magnanimous possibility that hundreds are already trickling in the country through illegal entry points, further increasing the risk of new infections, which will take long to detect, once they interact with different communities.
Although the busy border was officially closed in March, hordes of malfeasance continue to trickle back, using illegal entry points into the country, disregarding standing laws on returnees.
Far from being our own brothers and sisters, returnees breaching legal provisions and those housing them should be brought to book for such irresponsible behaviour.
Not only is their behaviour an albatross towards the country’s fight against the pandemic, but their actions are dangerous and bent on further spreading the disease because a large proportion of the Covid-19 positive cases that the country has today are imported.
That development points to a sad and unfortunate scenario, where these border jumpers and escapees are infected people undetected, as they gallivant up and about.
It is now incumbent on the Government to come up with robust and deterrent measures for those caught violating the standing laws, beyond the current fine.
We really need tougher punishments that are commensurate with the gravity of the crime of violating self-isolation and mandatory quarantine measures if the nation is to survive this pandemic.
The severity of the punishment should also be extended to the law enforcement agents, amid growing suspicions that some of them could have been working in cahoots with the returnees to facilitate their escape.
Health officials might need to consider issuing of certificates to returnees once they complete the mandatory quarantine period.
While there might be outcry over possible stigmatisation over such move, the possible catastrophe that Covid-19 poses to the generality of the society, can never be equated to public disapproval.
Proper policing and monitoring of those mandated to guard quarantine centres should be tightened so that every activity and everyone is accounted for.
The nation is revered among countries that have alert policing measures and personnel on law enforcement in the region, it therefore boggles the mind, why the same should be overwhelmed in superintending over the management mere quarantine centres with seemingly vulnerable citizens.
The nation should not lose sleep over illegal entries of returnees because these can be nabbed once law enforcement agents increase their surveillance in borders because the entry points are historical and already known.
The consequences of upsurge of Covid-19 cases are too huge to contemplate, that’s why the Government will need to decisively deal and severely punish escapees from quarantine centres, who are raising frivolous complaints to justify their actions.
Their actions pose a serious human threat which could turn this country into a Covid-19 hotspot in the region, reversing the positive gains made to date.
Returnees should abandon their sense of entitlement attitude and renegade behaviour and work towards assisting the nation in curbing the further spread of the virus.
Every Zimbabwean has a mandate to respond decisively, innovatively and together to suppress to spread of the virus, while looking at ways to address the socio-economic devastation that Covid-19 will cause in the long term.