Zimbabwe returns to restrictions amid rise in virus cases

National News

Thousands of people attend a music concert to celebrate New Year’s in the Mbare suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe, early Friday, Jan 1, 2021. Despite a government ban on music concerts and public gatherings due to a surge in COVID-19 infections and the new and more contagious variants of the disease, thousands of people gathered in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods to celebrate the new year. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

MUTARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — In response to rising COVID-19 numbers, Zimbabwe has reintroduced a night curfew, banned public gatherings, and indefinitely suspended the opening of schools.

“We are being overwhelmed and overrun,” Information Minister Nick Mangwana warned, saying the country’s hospitals are rapidly reaching capacity with COVID-19 patients.

Zimbabwe recorded 1,342 cases and 29 deaths in the past week, “the highest number recorded so far,” Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said, announcing the strict measures.

Zimbabwe’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 0.90 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 19 to 1.47 new cases per 100,000 people on Jan. 2.

Funerals are now limited to 30 people while other gatherings such as weddings and church services are banned for 30 days. Restaurants and beer taverns have also been closed.

The government has postponed indefinitely the opening of schools for a new term that was supposed to start on Monday, Jan. 4.

Airports will remain open to travelers who produce recent certificates showing they are free of COVID-19. Travel between Zimbabwe’s cities is restricted to “essential services” while land borders are open for commercial cargo and vehicles transiting to other countries only.

But the new measures seem to have done little to reduce the country’s general atmosphere of complacency.

Despite warnings, people gathered in large numbers for New Year’s Eve revelries.

On Sunday, ignoring reports of the deaths of some high profile business leaders and political figures, many Zimbabweans moved around without wearing masks.

In the eastern city of Mutare, hundreds of people gathered close together under trees to attend church services without masks or social distancing.

In the city’s Chikanga area, a group of men playing social soccer seemed undeterred by the renewed threat of COVID-19.

“It’s the same alarm they raised in March ( when the government first introduced a strict lockdown) but no one I know died or caught COVID. Life goes on,” said Felix Matari, on the sidelines of the soccer match.

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