Mashudu Netsianda and Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporters

PRESIDENT Mnangagwa yesterday launched the country’s Covid-19 National Preparedness and Response Plan and in a statement released later in the day, announced that schools, universities and colleges will close on Tuesday next week as a precautionary measure.

Zimbabwe has not recorded any cases of coronavirus, but Government is leaving no stone unturned in protecting citizens against the virus that is on the country’s doorsteps after positive cases were recorded in neighbouring South Africa and Zambia.

During the launch that was attended by Vice President Kembo Mohadi, Cabinet ministers, diplomats and development partners at State House in Harare, President Mnangagwa said no country was immune to the disease and urged Zimbabweans to put their differences aside, saying collectively, the nation can mitigate against the spread of coronavirus. 

As part of measures to contain the spread of Covid-19, on Tuesday, President Mnangagwa declared the pandemic a State of National Disaster and postponed major social events including the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) and the 40th Independence Day celebrations that were scheduled for Bulawayo next month.

Public gatherings of more than 100 people, including for religious purposes, were suspended for the next 60 days and that order becomes effective today.

During yesterday’s launch of the preparedness and response plan, President Mnangagwa said considering the scale and magnitude of the spread of the virus, it was clear that no country is immune to the disease or will be spared its impact. 

“We have the knowledge, the means and resources to fight this disease. If we act swiftly with purpose and collectively, we can minimise the effects of coronavirus on our people and our country. As enshrined in our Constitution, our major priority is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all Zimbabweans regardless of age, gender, religion or political persuasion. I strongly believe that we can continue to act together and put our differences aside to do the right things at the right time, at the right place. We will overcome Covid-19,” said the President.

The President said Government is deeply concerned about the impact that Covid-19 could have in Zimbabwe and the situation is a real threat. 

“My Government is very much committed to stopping Covid-19 right in its tracks following the declaration of this outbreak as public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation earlier this year. So, my Government through the Ministry of Health and Child Care has put in place and continues to enhance measures to minimise the import of Covid-19 into the country and ensure health safety of all citizens of our country. The national emergency preparedness and response mechanism for surveillance and early detection of any possible cases was activated and we will remain active after the WHO has removed the global health alert,” said President Mnangagwa.

He said the country’s preparedness measures have been stepped up through heightened surveillance systems at national, provincial and district levels with special focus on all ports of entry through the country. 

The President said mandatory screening of all visitors entering the country at ports of entry has started and all Government buildings and infrastructure will be screened with immediate effect. 

In addition, active surveillance and follow ups will continue to be done to minimise the spread of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe. 

“As of 13 March 2020, around 10 000 travellers have been screened at our ports of entry and put on surveillance. All our hospitals remain on high alert for Covid-19. Work is in progress to strengthen the capacity of identified isolation centres to be able to manage severe cases through the country. Of course, as already stated, there is no confirmed case yet in Zimbabwe. But considering the volume of traffic between Zimbabwe and other countries in our region and internationally, we need to step up and enhance our preparedness,” added the President.

He said lessons learnt from China have shown that doing the right things at the right place and at the right time is critical in containing the spread of virus. 

The President said Government will continue to give updates based on the risk level as the situation evolves and the Ministry of Health and Child Care will continue to be guided by and follow WHO guidance and recommendations for the national emergency preparedness and response to Covid-19. 

He said the national Covid-19 preparedness and response plan was developed by the Health Ministry with technical support from WHO and other partners.

 “This is a call to action. So, every sector and every individual must be involved in this national response to Covid-19. We wish to acknowledge the help that has been extended to the people of Zimbabwe by the Republic of China and by the UK government. 

“As I mentioned earlier, the current circumstances require extraordinary measures to curb the spread of infections. Meanwhile, I call on everyone to practice good personal hygiene including washing our hands frequently,” he said.

In a statement yesterday, President Mnangagwa said schools will close on Tuesday.

He said the Government’s decision to close the schools early follow concerns raised by parents and stakeholders in the education sector.

Yesterday, the President said he had heeded parents and other stakeholders’ concerns and schools will now close on Tuesday.

“Following concerns from parents as well as representations by the educational sector, Government has decided that all schools and tertiary institutions (colleges, polytechnics and universities) will now close on Tuesday, 24 March 2020, as a precaution against the outbreak and spread of coronavirus. 

“While Zimbabwe has not recorded any cases of the virus to date, Government has thought it prudent to err on the side of the caution, more so in respect of teaching institutions where human concentration and contact is expectedly high. The decision is part of the general precautionary measures the country is taking in light of the worldwide outbreak and rapid spread of the Coronavirus,” said the President in a statement.

“As I announced on Tuesday, 17 March 2020, Government will advise on the dates for the reopening of all teaching institutions in the country once the threat of the virus is adjudged to have receded.”