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United Nations Says Zimbabwe Facing Human Rights Woes, Collapsing Economy

FILE: A man is arrested by police officers after resisting orders to vacate a vegetable market area in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, March 31, 2020, on the second day of a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The United Nations says Zimbabwe, which has extended a lockdown to contain COVID-19, is facing a plethora of humanitarian problems, such as recurring droughts, food insecurity and a collapsing economy, and needs international assistance.

One of those feeling the pinch is Trevor River, 28, who sells building materials in one of Harare’s poor townships. He wants the government to pay him as long as there is a lockdown and he can’t work.

“The lockdown is quite difficult," River said. "The impact we are facing right now is quite huge because we are no longer selling. The source of our income has been cut short. So it’s quite difficult for us to survive.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa extended the lockdown indefinitely, noting that it will be reviewed fortnightly.

In a televised address on Saturday, he said, “Zimbabwe will therefore continue on Level 2 lockdown for an indefinite period … We shall have regular two-week interval reviews to assess progress or lack of it. This should give us more time to strengthen the prevention and case management approaches for the various risk populations. … Social and physical distancing will continue to be maintained and enforced at all times. I appeal to our people to exercise greater discipline in this regard."

Public health experts say the extension is the right move, but jobless informal workers are asking the government to pay them.

Earlier this week, police arrested some members of the political opposition who participated in a demonstration demanding that the government pay those who can’t earn a living because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Fortune Nyamande, head of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said the country was still far from ready to lift its lockdown. He said he sympathized, though, with the unemployed, who have had no source of income since late March, when restrictions were imposed.

“The WHO [World Health Organization] specifies that for a country to a lift a lockdown, a country must not have a widespread community transmission," Nyamande said. "It must have conducted adequate testing so that it can reflect on the extent of the disease. The health system should be well-equipped to respond to a surge in cases of COVID[-19]. Then finally the government should have the capacity to test, isolate and trace all the contacts of all those who test positive for COVID 19.

"Basing on this criteria, we still think that there is still a lot to be done. But however, extending the lockdown without addressing these four fundamental issues raised by the WHO is futile.”

Some informal traders are not waiting for the government to pay them. They are defying the lockdown and flooding the streets of Harare, selling their wares to make money.

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