The tightening of police roadblocks on highways leading into city and town centres yesterday was part of law enforcement measures to contain the spread of Covid-19, and not meant to frustrate essential workers and those in exempted businesses going to work, Government has said.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said last night in her post-Cabinet briefing that the prevalence of security checkpoints was consistent with the directive of the Covid-19 National Taskforce to ensure that people stay at home if they had no essential business to conduct.
“We are also making sure to prevent gatherings. The President has announced that we are still at Level Two, which still prohibits big gatherings, beyond 50 people. As much as our President has opened the economy to make sure that industry operates, we still have to make sure that we do adhere to the containment measures, otherwise the disease will spread. And we are still telling our people to stay at home, and only go out there when it is very important,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
“What the police is doing is in line with what the taskforce has put in place and we are all singing from the same hymn book. If there are particular cases being referred to, we would be interested as a ministry to get that information so that we can deal with that particular case. Otherwise we still stand with the containment measures of level two,” she said.
The checking of motorists and Zupco passengers in the morning peak hour was taking time with very long queues forming at some roadblocks. Police, with support of the army, were at some roadblocks, particularly in Bulawayo, turning back some people in services deemed essential, as well as those in exempted sectors and companies. At other roadblocks, almost everyone in essential and exempted services was being allowed through without a problem, but the process was time consuming.
Later in the day most roadblocks in most urban areas had speeded up the checking processes and were not blocking those who could show they were in essential services or exempted businesses and needed to be in the city centres or transit the city centres to move from their home on one side to their place of work on the other side.
The tightening of checks by the security services follows an increase in the number of people in central business districts of all towns and cities across the country, especially as more companies and sectors are exempted from the lockdown. Police have reported that there are growing numbers of people not in essential or exempted services moving around, particularly in city centres.
The daily Covid-19 statistics issued yesterday recorded four new cases, all among quarantined returning residents from South Africa, bringing the cumulative total to 391. The number of people who have been confirmed as fully recovered is now 62, cutting the number of active cases to 325, with the death toll remaining at four.
In Masvingo Province and city law enforcement agents stepped up border patrols, and tightened up vetting of all vehicles at roadblocks, to deal with the particular problem of border jumpers using haulage trucks and illegal entry points to get into Zimbabwe. This follows a surge in the number of border jumpers mainly from South Africa who are evading mandatory quarantining upon returning to the country.
In Mutare there was increased security personnel on roads leading into the city centre. At Mutare Teachers’ College and along Aerodrome Road, police were demanding to see letters granting people permission to be in the city centre, and some people were being turned back. Zupco buses were scarce or unavailable in high density areas like Dangamvura and Chikanga, leaving workers in exempted businesses and essential services stranded.
However, by midday those legally allowed to move or work into the city centre were getting through roadblocks.
In Gwanda, the Matabeleland South provincial capital, there was a heavy presence of both the police and the army enforcing compliance with the lockdown guidelines.
The situation was the same in Beitbridge with police details conducting patrols in suburbs and shopping centres in the border town.
In Marondera, Mashonaland East’s provincial capital, people with no business in the town centre were being told to go home due to increased enforcement of lockdown measures.
The situation was also the same in Mashonaland Central.
In the border towns of Chirundu and Kariba, the situation was calm with people going about their normal business.
Businesses were open in Chirundu as people moved freely while in Kariba people largely adhered to safety regulations, including wearing face masks and maintaining social distance.
In a related matter, Government has gazetted the work of Parliament as an essential service in terms of recently published Covid-19 regulations, Speaker of the National Assembly Advocate Jacob Mudenda announced yesterday. This followed a point of privilege raised by Manicaland proportional representative Ms Joyce Makonya (MDC-A) that they were encountering difficulties passing through security checkpoints.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi attributed the increased presence of police and other security details to the need to prevent unnecessary movement of people.
“We have to remind people that we are still under lockdown, and we have realised that there are many people that simply want to do their business in town when they are not in essential services.
“That is why we have had the situations we have had in the past few days,” Ass Comm Nyathi said.
He appealed to members of the public to avoid unnecessary movements and to cooperate with security forces as they do their job.
He said anyone who had grievances with the conduct of the police was free to approach senior officers for redress.