IN a bid to ensure that the country’s economy continues to function under the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown government has left what it is calling ‘essential services’ open. In these service sectors the ‘low income’ workers will be the ones greatly needed to report to work, of which many of them work in jobs that include high contact with other people, which also means that they are the most vulnerable to be hit harder by the virus.
Whilst the rest of the populace is being encouraged to stay or work from home during the 21-days lockdown that started on Monday in Zimbabwe, for the workers in the pronounced essential services they will keep working and risk contracting the virus through exposure with various people in their line of duty.
The key sectors comprise of the majority of public sector employees and critical industry and commerce workers. In the public sector, the lower tier employees such as nurses, social workers, drivers, refuse collectors, local authority officers, police and the military are key whilst in the private sector those working in energy, private security, manufacturing, mining, retail outlets, fast food outlets, pharmacies and banks are all deemed necessary. The list also includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods like food and medicine.
The coronavirus will also be an eye opener to government which a few months ago was in conflict with labour unions over the minimum wages of low income workers. Workers who talked to Easterntimeszim said hopefully, after this epidemic disease is under control, the importance of low income workers will be considered and their wages reviewed.
“Very quickly, this virus is going to circulate a lot faster in the high density suburbs than in the low density suburbs because of our squalid living conditions and poor remuneration. We have an important role to play in building this economy and our role has been shown currently by this virus. We will work for this economy but we are being paid peanuts and our families are at risk,” said one Mutare City Council employee that requested anonymity.
Mutare based general medical practitioner Dr Tapiwa Nyamangodo said coronavirus which spreads like influenza infections will most likely strike low-income neighborhoods more aggressively than affluent ones, especially the poor large families that live in close quarters sharing bathrooms. He said the acquisition of disinfectants as well as provision of personal protective clothing for the employees will help combat the spread of the disease and keep the employees safe as well.
“It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems it may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth, so protective clothing is very important. Workers exposed to the public need protective clothing without doubt,” said Dr Nyamangodo.
In a snap survey Easterntimeszim also learnt that most Zimbabweans remain skeptical as whether government will be accountable and effectively implement all its strategies to combat the epidemic, given past experiences where corruption superimposed over developmental and health projects at the expense of public safety.
Easterntimeszim observed that even the officers of the Zimbabwe Republic Police that are enforcing the measures of the stay away have no protective clothing but end of day go back to their families putting them at risk. Dr Nyamangodo urged government to fast intervene and ensure protective clothing is given to the low-income workers on duty during the 21-days shutdown.
Most doctors in public hospitals last week Thursday went on strike over lack of protective gear to protect them in the line of duty against coronavirus infections, joining thousands of nurses who had walked out of their wards in protest countrywide, on the day before (last week Wednesday).
In Mutare Monday and Tuesday recorded almost 100 compliance compliance of staying at home as the CBD was literally empty with just a few people, who were probably part of the essential services, that could be seen here and there. Most banks were however closed and most retail shops and fast food outlets opened till 3pm or 5pm depending with the business activity.
Most pharmacies were opened. The change money hustlers often seen allover town were no where to be found at their usual spots both downtown and uptown. However, it remains to be seen if this will continue as numbers of people in town slightly increased on Tuesday compared to Monday. Below are some pictures of Mutare since the lockdown on Monday: