Southern and Eastern Africa COVID-19 Digest (Discontinued on 31 Aug 2020)

Situation Report
Zimbabwe — Trends
Zimbabwe: IOM
People wait in a physically distanced queue before signing in at a WFP food distribution in Bikita District, Masvingo Province. Photo: WFP

Government declares COVID-19 crisis a national disaster

  • First case: 20 March

  • Total cases: 6,292 (as of 27 August 2020)

  • Total deaths: 189

  • Schools: Closed (4.1 million learners affected)

  • Borders/Flights: No commercial international flights permitted during nationwide lockdown. Borders remain open for cargo.

  • Containment measures: Nationwide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.; domestic travels allowed only for seeking/providing essential services; seven-day mandatory quarantine at Government facilities for travellers or those who had contact with symptomatic people.


Zimbabwe confirmed that 6,292 people had contracted COVID-19, including 189 who died from the disease, as of 27 August. The Government declared the COVID-19 crisis a “National Disaster” on 27 March and introduced an initial 21-day national lockdown on 30 March. The measure has later been extended indefinitely with a review every two weeks. The capital city Harare has become the new epicentre for COVID-19 as health authorities have reported more than 2,498 COVID-19 infections in the city, overtaking Bulawayo City which has 1,260 confirmed local cases. The increase in COVID-19 cases is a major concern as the country’s health system is currently overwhelmed, amid chronic medicine shortages and strikes by health workers over the lack of drugs and poor working conditions. Over 480 health-care workers have reportedly tested positive for coronavirus in Zimbabwe which constitutes about 11 per cent of the total number of cases that have been recorded so far, according to media reports.

The nationwide curfew has been shortened to 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. from and will still be enforced by security officers. Only essential services are exempt from this curfew, while all on-working sections of the population be required to stay at home, except for purposes of securing food, water, and health services. All travellers will be required to wear masks or equivalent protective materials; observe social distancing and undergo mandatory screening at all public places and buildings. All business premises must operate from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., except for providers of essential services. Food markets will remain open while inter-city/town public transport and inessential transport to all rural areas remain banned. Public gatherings for social, religious, or political purposes remain banned. Funeral gatherings remain curtailed, in line with public health requirements. Desertion from places of quarantine by returnees and infected persons, resulting in the exposure of innocent lives to the virus will be considered a criminal act. More than 105,000 people have been arrested in Zimbabwe since March for violating regulations aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, according to the police. The Government has been accused of using the measures to target the opposition and arrest activists. All international passenger flights in and out of Zimbabwe remain suspended except for returning Zimbabwean nationals and permit holders while borders remain open for cargo. Schools initially scheduled to reopen on 28 July will remain closed until further notice. Mid-year public examinations that started on 29 June were completed on 22 July in 800 centres. Citizens have been advised to limit their visits to the informal markets, which are still allowed to function. People found guilty of spreading fake news on coronavirus can be charged with 20 years of prison.

Following several reports of police brutality during the State of Emergency, the High Court granted on 14 April, an interim order that any enforcement officers engaged in implementing the country’s lockdown must respect human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms, according to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. On 20 May, the Heads of Mission of the Delegation of the European Union, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America issued a statement exhorting the Government of Zimbabwe to respect human rights. The letter follows the abduction and torture of two leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and a member of the Parliament, all opponents of the Government. The three women were reportedly sexually assaulted by police officers after being arrested during a protest in Harare on 13 May over the impact of COVID-19-related restrictions on vulnerable families.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) group has raised concerns over the severe water and sanitation crisis, which is likely to undermine the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. According to HRW, thousands of women and school-age children are spending eight to nine hours and all night in lines at crowded boreholes or narrow water wells to get water, increasing risks of violence. The Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe has reported that at least 764 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) occurred during the first 11 days of the COVID-19 national lockdown, above the monthly average of 500 GBV cases.

As of 25 August, 16,296 migrants from Zimbabwe have returned to the country since March from neighbouring nations, the majority of them from South Africa, according to IOM. The large majority of returnees arrived through the points of entry of Beitbridge border post, Plumtree, Harare International airport and Forbes.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, Zimbabwe was already facing increased humanitarian needs due to multiple climate shocks and a harsh economic crisis. The health system was nearly collapsing and at least 7 million people in urban and rural areas across Zimbabwe were facing increasing hunger and in need of assistance.


  • The Government launched its COVID-19 National Preparedness and Response Plan on 19 March and has said it will increase cash transfers for 1 million vulnerable households.

  • In May, Zimbabwe was added to the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19, with $85 million required to reach 5.9 million people with urgent COVID-19-related assistance. This comes on top of the pre-existing requirement of $715 million to reach 5.6 million people in Zimbabwe with life-saving assistance and protection, which was called for under the Zimbabwe Humanitarian Response Plan. (Read more information on the response in the situation report. )

  • As schools remain closed, broadcasting lessons commenced on 16 June across five ZBC radio stations for primary school level. Supplementary feeding for 6,000 children living with HIV in Harare, Goromonzi and Chitungwiza District was distributed. Over 1.5 million people received either in-kind food distribution, cash, or vouchers in June 2020 in both rural and urban areas. To limit the risk of infection by community health workers, screening of acute malnutrition has continued following the adoption of the mother-led mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) measurement. In the first three weeks of June 2020, 111,383 children were screened for acute malnutrition with 83 per cent of the children being screened at community level in 25 nutrition priority districts. Out of these, 120 children were admitted for treatment of moderate acute malnutrition and 80 were admitted for treatment of severe acute malnutrition. The national GBV Hotline (Musasa) has recorded a total of 2,768 GBV calls from the beginning of the lockdown on 30 March until 13 June, with an overall average increase of over 70 per cent compared to the pre-lockdown trends.

Official sources:

Ministry of Information Official Twitter and Ministry of Health Official Twitter

Zimbabwe COVID-19 Dashboard and Ministry of Health Daily Updates

Other links:

Unsafe Water Raises COVID-19 Risks, by Human Rights Watch

20 years in jail for spreading fake coronavirus news, by The Standard

High Court granted an interim order that police must respect human rights, by ZLHR Lawyers

COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response, by UNESCO

COVID-19 World Travel Restrictions, by the Emergency Division of the World Food Programme (WFP)

Global COVID-19 Airport Status, by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

Response to COVID-19, by IMF