The Sunday Mail
LUCK continues to elude Tonderai Mangwiro of Kuwadzana Extension as he has failed to access foreign currency from the bureau de change for two consecutive days.
Even waking up as early as 4am and spending inordinate hours in the queue has not helped.
On August 27 this year, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ)’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) allowed bureax de change to process “small value foreign currency transactions of up to US$50 per person per week”.
Since the money is being sold at the official exchange rate, whose premium is below parallel market rates, many view it as a cheap source of foreign currency.
However, accessing it is a different proposition altogether.
“Accessing the money is proving to be a challenge. I woke up around 4am and an hour later I was here. As you can see, it is almost midday and I am yet to get the money,” Mangwiro said.
But continued gatherings at bureax de change are now raising the spectre of spreading the new strain of the coronavirus — the Omicron — which has now been detected in Zimbabwe.
The mutant strain has led to an explosion of new coronavirus cases in South Africa.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail Society indicate that the prospect of getting money on the cheap from bureax de change and offloading it on the parallel market at much higher rates is forcing some individuals to rope in their relatives and friends to withdraw as much foreign currency as possible.
This, in turn, is leading to crowding.
“It is impossible to maintain social distance under such circumstances. We have people who always want to jump queues and once we leave gaps, such people can fit in.
“To maintain order, we have to be as close to each other as possible,” one of the hundreds of people who had converged at the Karigamombe Centre for the money said.
Her colleague, Evelyn Moyo, weighed in.
“As you can see, we are crammed here. People are not being sanitised and we are not social distancing . . .”
Unfortunately, most of the people in the queues are not observing recommended health protocols and guidelines.
In most instances, although they might have masks, the face coverings are often strapped on chins without covering the nose and mouth.
Crowding, jostling, pushing and shoving is also common.
Health experts warn that such gatherings might be super-spreaders of the virus.
Dr Johannes Marisa, president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe, said people are perilously letting their guard down.
“What I observed in Harare’s Central Business District actually shocked me. We are having people who are spending days on end in queues where they are not observing the Covid-19 protocols. The queues are dangerous Covid-19 super-spreaders,” Dr Marisa said.
“The Government must ban such gatherings as soon as possible. Also, people must mask up, sanitise and maintain social distancing. Not much is known about this new variant, so we cannot take risks.”
But the queues have even moved to banks and supermarkets as well, as people seek to make withdrawals and buy groceries ahead of the festive season.
Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Harare province spokesperson Inspector Tendai Mwanza said law enforcement agents will continue to enforce current regulations and will arrest those who are breaking the law.
“The recent pronouncements by the Government with regards to Covid-19 regulations are clear.
“Members of the public must adhere to all World Health Organisation protocols without exception. Those found to be acting otherwise will be arrested,” said Inspector Mwanza.
“Those in queues are supposed to exercise all health protocols such as social distancing, wearing of masks properly and sanitising or washing hands with running water. Everyone has a responsibility to complement Government efforts in reducing Covid-19 infections. Complacency seems to be creeping in within communities and it is not the time to drop guard.”
Chief Co-ordinator of Covid-19 Response in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Agnes Mahomva, said people should do everything possible to avoid the risk of infection.
“We have been and are still sending the message loud and clear. We are saying people should avoid crowding and maintain the basic health protocols,” she said.
“Government continues to strengthen all preventive measures. In the taskforce, we have sub-committees and one of the committees is responsible for enforcing the Covid-19 regulations.”
The Government, she added, will do everything possible to fight the virus.
Last week, the country announced a raft of measures to curb the spread and transmission of the virus.
The interventions were made following the detection of Omicron in neighbouring countries Botswana and South Africa.
Returning residents and visitors are now expected to quarantine for 10 days at own cost at Government-designated facilities.
Everyone entering Zimbabwe must also undergo a Covid-19 PCR test even when they produce a Covid-19-free certificate from elsewhere.
A daily curfew running from 9pm to 6am has been declared to limit movement and curb the transmission of the virus, with only essential services providers being exempted.
It has also become mandatory for people attending gatherings to observe and comply with protocols such as masking, social distancing and sanitising, among others.
There are fears new infections could herald the beginning of the fourth wave of the pandemic.
By the end of last week, new cases continued to rise.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Health and Child Care reported 1 042 new cases from 712 cases a day earlier.