The government of Zimbabwe has announced a dusk-to-dawn COVID-19 curfew as it reinstates strict measures to curb the spread of the disease following a recent spike in confirmed coronavirus infections.
Starting Wednesday, security forces will enforce a curfew between 6pm and 6am local time. All non-working people will be required to stay at home, except to buy groceries and seek medical attention. Business hours will be limited to 8am to 3pm, apart from those performing essential services.
“We can no longer be complacent and that requires urgent and decisive measures,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Tuesday during an address to the nation.
He said anyone who encouraged actions that undermine the government’s measures “will be liable and severely punished accordingly”.
Zimbabwe, whose healthcare system has been struggling from years of neglect, has recorded 1,820 coronavirus cases, a fairly small number compared with other countries.
Over the past week, however, infections rose by nearly a third and the number of deaths increased from 18 to 26.
Mnangagwa initially imposed a 21-day coronavirus lockdown on March 30, banning large gatherings and ordering most businesses to close except for food shops in a country already suffering from rampant hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods.
In the weeks that followed, rights groups reported a growing number of cases of abuse against civilians after the army was deployed to help police enforce the lockdown. Security forces in Zimbabwe have a history of brutality when enforcing the law.
The government relaxed the restrictions in May, allowing large corporations to open but under strict conditions to ensure the safety of their staff and customers.
Travel between cities and gatherings of more than 50 people for social, religious and political reasons remain banned.
“These measures are being taken for our collective safety. As Zimbabweans, we have to win the war against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mnangagwa said.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from the capital, Harare, said there were “mixed feelings” about the lockdown.
“Some said it is essential so people don’t get sick, but others said they feel this is the government trying to clamp down on the opposition.”
The latest measures effectively ban nationwide protests next week organised by opposition politician Jacob Ngarivhume against state corruption and worsening economic conditions.
Critics and the opposition said the new steps were linked to the planned July 31 demonstrations.
On Monday, police arrested Ngarivhume and prominent investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, accusing them of inciting violence ahead of the rallies. The arrests drew sharp criticism in Zimbabwe and abroad.
Until recently, Africa remained relatively unscathed by the pandemic compared with rising numbers in other parts of the world.
But on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) voiced alarm at the spread of COVID-19 on the continent.
“I am very concerned right now that we are beginning to see an acceleration of disease in Africa,” WHO’s emergencies chief Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference.
Al Jazeera and news agencies