HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe began a 21-day nationwide lockdown on Monday, following South Africa in implementing tough anti-coronavirus measures that are likely to hurt an economy already suffering from hyperinflation and food shortages.
But unlike neighbouring South Africa, where many citizens defied calls to stay indoors and some clashed with security forces at the weekend, Zimbabweans mostly stayed home.
Zimbabwe’s police have a reputation for brutality and were manning checkpoints on highways into the capital on Monday, questioning the few motorists on the roads.
The main opposition party, the MDC Alliance, supports the lockdown and criticised the government for not imposing it earlier.
Zimbabwe has recorded just seven coronavirus cases and one death, but President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a televised address that citizens should take the restrictions on movement seriously.
“I want all of you to spend the next 21 days acting as if you already have the virus ... Would you want to infect your friends, would you want to infect your families, would you want to infect your countrymen? Of course not. So, keep your distance,” Mnangagwa said.
He said the security forces would enforce the lockdown “with a listening ear”.
The finance ministry said it had made available 500 million Zimbabwean dollars (around $20 million) and would unfreeze 4,000 posts in the health sector.
Central Harare’s streets were deserted. Banks, government offices and businesses were shut.
In the poor township of Mbare, the inter-city bus rank was closed and rows of wooden stalls used by vegetable vendors abandoned.
Nearby, six men sat outside their flat drinking gin. Fox Dhalu, a 36-year-old father of three, complained that some shops had hiked prices.
“The government gave us short notice to prepare for this coronavirus lockdown. We are very angry about this,” he said.
A few blocks from the police station in the middle class suburb of Mabelreign, 73-year-old grandmother Angela Nerwande sat on an improvised stool selling vegetables on her stall.
“What will my grandchildren eat if I stay at home? “At my age I am not afraid of dying. If they want to arrest me let them come,” she said.
In a statement, Zimbabwe Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said: “The law is very clear, those who don’t comply will be arrested and prosecuted.”
In South Africa, many of the most vulnerable people have struggled to observe the lockdown, and people in poor, overcrowded townships have continued to mingle, sometimes prompting security forces to use water cannon to break them up.
State broadcaster SABC aired videos of soldiers humiliating people, making them do squats and pulling one along the ground with a wire. Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said they should not use excessive force.
“We want our security services to partner with our communities to stop the spread of coronavirus,” she said.
South African police said a policeman and security guard had shot a man dead during the coronavirus lockdown.
In a bid to ease the impact, South Africa relaxed restrictions on taxis during rush hour and made early social security payments to the elderly.
“We are scared of being sick but there is nothing we can do, what are we going to eat? We are here to get paid so we can buy food,” said Maryjane Jinethi, 66, as she queued in Soweto for her cheque.
South Africa had 1,280 cases and two deaths as of Monday.
In Nigeria’s capital Abuja and the main city Lagos, those who could afford to stock up queued at shops ahead of a 14-day lockdown starting at 11 p.m. (2200 GMT).
Angola recorded its first two coronavirus deaths at the weekend, local news agency Angop reported.
Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos, Siyabonga Sishi and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg; Writing by Tim Cocks, Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood