Harare, Zimbabwe – The Zimbabwean government has reintroduced the gathering restrictions and mandated strict compliance with measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic amid concerns about increasing COVID-19 infections in the country.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the number of people allowed to gather for all kinds of events had been reduced to 100.

“[The] The cabinet is taking this opportunity to urge all citizens to strictly adhere to COVID-19 protection and prevention guidelines in order to halt the surge in confirmed cases, “she said.

Authorities had eased restrictions on attendance at gatherings after a drop in confirmed new infections in September – but a sudden surge in recent weeks has forced the government to rethink.

An analysis of the official COVID-19 data shows that new cases have appeared since November and are now averaging 100 cases per day, compared to the past two months when infections were around 25 per day.

As of Wednesday, the country had registered 10,129 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 277 deaths – up from 8,374 infections and 243 deaths a month ago.

Political scientist Rashweat Mukundu said the increase shows [a] Notable failure in the government’s COVID-19 response and also the abuse of opening up the socio-economic sector. “

Mukundu cited the reopening of schools last month “without proper precautions” as one of the reasons for what he called a “ticking time bomb”.

“The government’s response has been largely politicized,” said Mukundu, urging the authorities “to return to the drawing board.”

Economic crisis, health problems

Zimbabwe is in a deepening economic crisis characterized by sky-high inflation and foreign exchange scarcity, as well as a devastating mix of a rapidly weakening currency, stagnating salaries and high unemployment. Medicines are in short supply and depleted national coffers mean that the government is unable to purchase sufficient supplies for government medical facilities.

Given the fragile health system in Zimbabwe, residents and health professionals have repeatedly raised alarms about a severe COVID-19 outbreak.

The government imposed a nationwide lockdown in March to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country. However, since then it has eased most coronavirus-related restrictions as it fears it will create further economic problems.

Zimbabwe imposed a strict nationwide lockdown in March to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country [File: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]Nearly 300 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since classes resumed on November 9.

Among them were more than 180 students from John Tallach High School near Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city. A total of 54 cases were also recorded at Chinhoyi High School, a school in central Mashonaland West Province.

The boarding schools concerned were quarantined and no one was allowed to get on or off.

Meanwhile, 10 positive cases were recorded at Matopo High School in Matabeleland South Province, while 20 students at Anderson High School, a school in Gweru, one of the smaller towns in central Zimbabwe, tested positive for the virus.

But authorities told Al Jazeera things are now under control.

“The situation is fine and manageable,” said Taungana Ndoro, director of communications and advocacy at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “We are confident that we can spot cases early,” he added, noting that most of the infected students have recovered under quarantine and are allowed to leave the school premises.

The medical director of Bulawayo Province, Welcome Mlilo, described the situation in the city of around 640,000 inhabitants as “fairly stable” and “not as alarming as in some parts of the country”.

As the number of locally transmitted infections has increased in recent weeks, police have stepped up measures to enforce coronavirus measures, including punishing people in the country with penalties for non-compliance with COVID-19 guidelines such as wearing face masks and maintaining physical distancing.

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