Zimbabwe will impose a nationwide lockdown for 21 days from Monday to curb the spread of the coronavirus and security forces may be deployed to enforce it, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said.
The decision will hurt an economy already struggling with drought, shortages of foreign exchange and a staggering unemployment rate of over 90%, forcing people to survive on informal trade.
Mnangagwa said in a live broadcast only state and health workers on duty will be exempt from the lockdown, while funeral gatherings should not be more than 50 people.
“Some measures will be drastic and upset the daily routines of our lives. Should it become necessary, security forces will be deployed to assist in enforcement of the measures,” Mnangagwa said.
Nelson Chamisa, main opposition leader and usually a strident critic of Mnangagwa and his government, supported government’s decision as Zimbabwe was “in circumstances of a catastrophe.”
“Politics aside, we must unite to save lives,” Chamisa wrote on Twitter.
Zimbabwe reported five confirmed coronavirus cases and one death. The opposition and other critics accuse government of understating figures and dragging feet in taking action to halt the spread of the disease.
The 76-year-old president said government was looking at ways to support the economy to avert two successive years of recession, after a six percent contraction last year.
Most Zimbabweans eke out a living hawking goods and a shutdown will leave many without an income or food, analysts say.
Last week Mnangagwa announced measures to curb movement of people. It is largely been business as usual in Zimbabwe, with informal markets and businesses open and public transport operating.
Earlier, a Zimbabwean billionaire offered health workers support, including life insurance and cash, after nurses and doctors walked out over a lack of protective clothing for treating people suffering from the coronavirus.