BY MOSES MATENGA/REX MPHISA
THERE was chaos at Beitbridge Border Post yesterday as thousands of Zimbabweans made last-minute attempts to cross into neighbouring South Africa.
In cities and towns, thousands of travellers flocked to their rural homes ahead of a level 4 30-day COVID-19-induced lockdown which starts today.
Those employed in towns and cities but were still enjoying their holidays in rural homes rushed back to the urban centres before the lockdown introduced by Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga at the weekend became effective.
Zimbabwe goes into the hard lockdown starting today
to contain the spiralling cases of COVID-19 that are threatening to overrun the health system. Under the lockdown, intercity travel is banned, while only providers of essential goods will be allowed movement in towns and cities.
The lockdown, which has seen the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew, ends after a month.
Yesterday, roads leading to the Beitbridge Border Post were congested with authorities clearing only those with the necessary documentation while undocumented travellers were being turned away.
Over three million Zimbabwe are said to have sought political and economic refuge in South Africa over the past two decades, with the majority of them said to have crossed illegally.
The number of people crossing into SA using illegal points had been increasing over the past few days, forcing the neighbouring country to deploy military helicopters to curb the illegal migration, according to the media in that country.
The South African Police Service has also been deployed along the border to stop thousands of Zimbabweans without proper documentation and those with fake COVID-19 clearance certificates from entering that country.
South African Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi and officials from his ministry have been literally camped at the border post, to enforce the clamp down on illegal immigrants.
Motsoaledi has accused members of both the Zimbabwe National Army and Zimbabwe Republic Police of corruptly allowing undocumented travellers into South Africa.
In Harare and other cities, there was congestion in CBDs with residents making last-minute grocery stock-ups while Mbare Musika bus terminus was a hive of activity as poeple sought transport to their rural homes.
Information permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana attributed the chaos to last-minute “preparations for the full level four lockdown”.
“All roads leading in and out Harare CBD are highly congested. Is it last-minute shopping or business in town preparing for full level 4 lockdown from tomorrow?” he asked rhetorically.
Health experts warned that the mass urban-rural migration could further spread the highly contagious disease.
Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Itai Rusike said the temporary migration of people from affected areas was risky for the vulnerable in the villages.
“We have seen an unusual rush of people from urban areas that have a high prevalence of COVID-19 fleeing to less affected rural areas and carrying the virus with them,” Rusike said.
“Unfortunately, this is where more elderly people live and where health services may be even more remote.”
“Policy and political choices are needed to save lives, avoid overwhelming the rural health systems and to not destroy the household and the national economy in the process of doing so,” Rusike added.
He said the government should use the lockdown to introduce effective public health measures and build decentralised capacities to expand testing and contact tracing.
Observers said the government had been found wanting in that regard and the situation was likely to overwhelm the country’s already collapsed health system.
Under the new measures, only essential service providers would be allowed to operate. Zimbabwe, like most southern African countries, has been under a number of lockdown levels since March last year, and the restrictions have negatively affected the economy and led to job losses.
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