30 March 2020 (Day 1 of Lockdown)
As I begin a very late morning on the 30th of March, questions flood my mind endlessly about the pandemic. So far I had been closely following updates about the virus as it spread across the globe. I wonder if globalization has fuelled the spread, if I’ll ever see my loved ones well after the lockdown—if life ever gets back to normal; how about my friends—the Chinese I shared accommodation within School. For the first time in more than five years, I am wondering if any of them ever moved to Wuhan, Hubei, or could be in any danger. How about my family members scattered across the globe, how safe is my sister the health worker in Australia, my best friend— Melanie and her husband Markus and their two kids. What if the virus hits us hard here in Zimbabwe—I am not even certain our health facilities would be able to handle it.
So far, Day 1 of the lockdown seems quite uneventful. Our street corner is deserted—no vehicles moving around—at least for a while until we catch a glimpse of a police vehicle which seems to be pursuing a van with a South African plate. We (my sister and I) are standing by the balcony wondering if this might be “the beginning of the end.” As we look on, the driver of the vehicle that was being pursued by the police steps out and has a conversation with some of the officers. We are not within earshot of it, but what we see is a moment that is quite unsettling as the driver pulled out his wallet and took out something from what looks like a stack of rand bills— the color looks like that of a R200 note from our neighboring country of South Africa. Across the road, we can see a couple of people also looking on from their apartments. Within a couple of minutes, the two vehicles leave in different directions and we are left wondering what the outcome was. Was the driver allowed to continue, were they fined on the spot, were they given any instructions and let go with a warning?
Actually, telling a bit of today’s story is incomplete without mentioning that we only got into bed after 0200hrs last night looking for gas (for cooking). We use gas not because we don’t have electricity—we do—but to reduce our carbon footprint we use gas for cooking. We often fill our gas every three weeks but given that we were heading into lockdown, we just needed to ensure that we wouldn’t run out midway. So, on Sunday morning, the day before the lockdown was enforced, I left home for the usual gas refill any the time I arrived at the first serving point closest to our place—there was a long queue I would estimate that there were easily 35+ gas tanks in front of me but 35 seemed reasonable, I could leave my tank on the queue, return a couple of hours and get the gas. Boy was I mistaken! Not only did I lose valuable time, but I wound up chasing gas queues all afternoon into the evening. Among the other three places I visited, even the suppliers had little gas and were trying to get refills. I then joined a fellow queue mate to a gas refueling point that was swamped with people. We waited past midnight when we finally got served and were able to return home.
31 March 2020 (Day 2 of Lockdown)
It’s finally sinking in that we might be in for the long haul. Six a.m., as the alarm goes off, I awake sluggishly; at this point, I am wondering why I am even torturing myself—getting out of bed at the usual time. After all, I will be home for the next twenty or so days. All I will need to remain sane is structure and a tidy schedule for each day. A couple of vehicles can be heard in the background but much like yesterday—people seem to be quite hesitant in getting into the city but the market area seems to be getting quite a bit of foot traffic which I can see from my window, there a few queues forming here and there. Unfortunately, it also appears that people have yet to grasp the concept of social distancing. Looking at the queues close to the market, people are hardly keeping any distance at all from each other—it appears they aren’t even leaving any room. If this persists, we might be headed for a rude awakening.
Zimbabwean students in Universities have formed a group (on WhatsApp with a corresponding Facebook page and Twitter handle) to respond to issues and discuss critical areas of interest. The group has 32 student representatives, a third of whom are female. The student group is awash with wonderful ideas of how to make this manageable for the population. One key concern raised today was the existence of a dedicated emergency fund to deal with health-related issues an epidemic/pandemic fund of sorts that would address the emerging needs of different groups, for instance, those who are self-employed and live from hand-to-mouth. Group members highlighted that such individuals would find it difficult to stay home since the meals they have on any given day depending on the earnings made on that said day: these individuals would not have any savings to cater for situations ensuing from outbreaks such as the one persisting at this point. One could also think of having mandatory insurance combined with an existing VAT or some form of tax on the general population that goes directly into Outbreak Response Management funds. Group members also recommended on the platform that the government could negotiate with development partners working in the country to institute at least a percent or two of their budgets to contribute to the same fund.
1 April 2020 (Day 3 of Lockdown)
Today, the sound of vehicles driving by and people walking about can be heard in the streets. Actually, if it were not for the lockdown, I would have thought it an ordinary day in April. It looks like quite a number of people are out in the streets, which is worrying. Today, my focus was mainly on the student group. I write some research items and am one of the moderators in the group working together with Prof. Chakanetsa Mavhunga, A. Moyo, and Constance Myambo. There are questions raised within the group based on current articles on COVID-19; some are asking why the statistics are reflecting more men are infected than women. There are concerns that lockdowns such as those instituted here could increase incidents of gender-based violence as have been noted elsewhere in the world. Would the country be ready to assist any such victims; can they report discretely; how about children and the elderly, and if any of them are abused how can they access help? A couple of individuals also raised concerns about the homeless. The issues for now really seem quite interesting. We hope from here on, the platform and its related Facebook page and Twitter handle can result in some tangible solutions to respond to this pandemic and any other health emergencies in the future.
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Nomathemba Sibanda is a research fellow at the National University of Science and Technology. She is currently in the process of applying to Ph.D. programs in public health and environmental science. She is based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
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The Teach311 + COVID-19 Collective began in 2011 as a joint project of the Forum for the History of Science in Asia and the Society for the History of Technology Asia Network and is currently expanded in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science(Artifacts, Action, Knowledge) and Nanyang Technological University-Singapore.