Poor Families Need Sound Relief Payouts

The tightening of restrictions by the government last week to curb the spread of the second wave of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic once again exposed the government’s lack of preparedness with regards support for vulnerable families.

Vice President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga announced tough lockdown regulations that will include the banning of random movement, closure of non-essential business and prohibition of large gatherings including weddings and church services. The restrictions which began on Tuesday this week will be in place for 30 days.

The lockdown will also result in the reintroduction of a dusk-to-dawn curfew, suspension of intercity travel and other movement deemed unnecessary. Cross-border trading has also been banned as has the operation of beer halls, bars and bottle stores. Supermarkets and other businesses deemed to provide essential services will operate between 8am and 3pm.

There is no doubt about the need to tighten restrictions after the sharp surge in coronavirus infections with 1 365 new infections and 34 fatalities reported on Tuesday this week. This was the highest number of infections and fatalities reported in 24 hours since the first case was reported in March last year. The recovery rate has also plummeted from 90% to just below 70% this week indicating the severe impact of the pandemic.

However there has been no clarity as to what the government will do to support the vulnerable affected by the lockdown including the informal traders who will be rendered destitute as a result because they survive from hand-to-mouth every day. While some governments are offering aid in the form of funding or grants, in conjunction with the announcement of the lockdown, Chiwenga was silent on this aspect during his weekend announcement.

Reports of some vendors and informal traders violating the lockdown to sell their wares are hardly surprising. Without any tangible support or aid from the government to supplement their lost income, desperate informal traders will risk life and limb to eke out a living amid a raging pandemic which has claimed more than 40 lives this week alone and endanger other people’s lives in the process. This is because without support they face the grim choice of risking contracting Covid-19 or dying of hunger.

It is also vital to have adequate funding in place for the vulnerable households. The funding should be a decent amount that will ensure they can sustain themselves during the lockdown period. To offer a measly sum of ZW$300 for each household which the government offered households when the national lockdown was put in place in March last year is not only inadequate but an insult. We hope Finance minister Mthuli Ncube will not need a “sophisticated algorithm” to choose which of the vulnerable to assist as he claimed when the lockdown was initially implemented. Without adequate funding support, the lockdown has minimal chances of success in achieving its objective of curbing the spread of the pandemic.

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