Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
THE shortage of various goods, services and cash has seen most people failing to maintain social distances as they spend long hours in queues where they risk contracting or spreading Covid-19.
Government banned the gathering of over 50 people but demand for certain goods and services outstrips supply hence members of the public are forced not to observe social distancing.
Social distancing and self-isolation are some of the measures that the public can implement to prevent the spread of coronavirus that has infected three people in Zimbabwe, killing one of the patients.
Over the past few days, there has been queueing and scrambling for $70 subsidised mealie-meal that is available in a few shops. The situation has been worsened by the blundering Bulawayo City Council (BCC) that has failed to supply residents with water since last Friday due to maintenance works.
Constant washing of hands is seen as a measure that the public can use to also minimise the spread of the lethal virus. Use of sanitiser, avoiding crowds as well as avoiding hugging or shaking hands are also recommended in fighting Covid-19.
However, scores of Bulawayo residents could not avoid crowds yesterday as they were fetching water at boreholes, vandalised hydrants and public institutions which had water.
There were also queues at financial institutions that include CABS, CBZ and Steward Bank in the CBD, something that started well before the outbreak of Covid-19.
At bus ranks, there were long queues and buses including those belonging to Zupco that were overloaded. Some people were packed in open trucks that are cheaper. No-one was being sanitised. Even for kombis, it was business as usual.
A Chronicle news crew observed that at Econet shops there are posters on walls educating members of the public about measures they should take to prevent the spread of Covid-19, but clients do not observe social distancing. Crowds, mainly people having challenges with the company’s Ecocash platform after their monies are deducted but the transaction is not successful, constitute the largest number of people visiting the shops.
Econet Zimbabwe media and corporate affairs executive Mr Fungai Mandiveni could not be reached for comment yesterday over Ecocash glitches that force people into desperation, hence exposing themselves to the virus.
A Chronicle news crew also noticed large gatherings of more than 100 people at cemeteries and market places, in defiance of the social distancing measures.
At Athlone cemetery at around 11AM, several buses and cars offloaded people burying loved ones.
At the market place along 5th Avenue it was business as usual as vendors sold their products without observing any social distance.
Even clients were not paying attention to the need to maintain the distances to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Residents who spoke to news crew said with the prevailing shortages of goods and cash they have no option but to queue.
Mr Jameson Phiri, who was in a mealie-meal queue, in the central business district said to stop the crowding of people in shops, the market should be flooded with the needed goods. “Most of us who are queuing here have been in different shops just following details of where mealie-meal has been delivered. Some of us have queued in more than three shops but we are still to get the mealie meal. If one of us gets coronavirus we will all contract it. We can’t be thinking of social distancing when we don’t have food in our homes. Do we die of hunger while protecting ourselves from coronavirus through social distancing and self-isolation?” asked Mr Phiri.
Another resident, Mrs Catherine Gava said they cannot afford mealie meal which is sold in black market in cash and queried why Government was not dealing with those who are causing the shortages.
Mrs Melita Mtikani said people have to queue for cash at banks because goods are cheaper when buying using it.
“We don’t need to be queuing for cash, they should find ways of ensuring that cash is available in the city without any hassles. If all those small things are attended to, we won’t see people in queues. But as it stands, we have no option but spend our time in queues despite the knowledge that coronavirus is spread through social contacts,” said Mrs Mtikani.
A resident who was fetching water at a water hydrant in Lobengula Extension suburb, Mrs Thandeka Thonsi, said following Saturday’s water cuts, they have been spending a lot of time queuing for water exposing themselves to both waterborne diseases and the coronavirus.
Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Judith Ncube urged residents to follow laid down isolation and self-distancing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“I sincerely understand the plight faced by most citizens. But it is important that we also contribute in ensuring that the virus does not spread by abiding to recommendations made by Government. We should also not lose sight that we are still in a drought situation. Government is doing its part to ensure that there is mealie-meal in the country. We should also shop responsibly by stopping to hoard products,” said Cde Ncube.
BCC senior public relations officer Mrs Nesisa Mpofu said council was resource constrained to place sanitisers in boreholes to prevent the virus from spreading among those fetching water.
She said council was, however, also sensitising the public to on the need of maintaining social distances but residents should also play their part in ensuring its success.
“We are encouraging residents to pay for services using online platforms. Notices have been placed in various revenue halls across the city and in case one physically visits our offices we encourage them to maintain social distance. We are also waiting for Covid-19 resources from the central Government where resources are being mobilised from. We are also utilising our limited resources to buy sanitisers which we are gradually distributing to various departments that mainly deal with members of the public,” she said.
The news crew observed that at the Revenue Hall in the CBD, the council’s staff were educating the public about social distancing.