HARARE - Zimbabwe's government held burials Wednesday for two Cabinet ministers and a former prison official who died from COVID-19. The Cabinet now has lost four ministers to the coronavirus - three of them this month - and more than 1,000 people overall. Public health experts blame Zimbabwe's collapsed healthcare system.
At the burial of the transport and foreign affairs ministers, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga urged Zimbabweans to observe social distancing, wear face masks and wash their hands to fight the coronavirus.
"COVID-19 has taught us an important lesson; that we are all mortals," he said. "The fight against this pandemic does not allow us to choose who to walk with, work with, or run with. It does not discriminate, between the powerful and the weak, the privileged and the deprived, the haves and the have nots. It is a ruthless juggernaut that leaves a trail of destruction and desperation. But we will eventually conquer it. We will eventually conquer it and conquer it as a people."
The burials of Minister of Foreign Affairs Sibusiso Moyo, Transport Minister Joel Biggie Matiza and former head of Zimbabwe's prisons Paradzai Zimondi - all COVID-19 cases - come hardly a week after President Emmerson Mnangagwa presided over the burials of a minister and a senior official of the ruling ZANU-PF party at the same national shrine.
Following the deaths, the country's government spokesman, Nick Mangwana, accused the country's health workers of being "assassins." He has since apologized following public outcry.
Dr. Pamela Magande, president of Zimbabwe College of Public Health Physicians, says the recent surge in coronavirus cases was caused by a "relaxed festive season," when people did not social distance and did not wear face masks.
"We know that to prevent this disease and to protect ourselves, we need to keep our masks on, we know that social distance is important and we also know that hygiene is also important... So as long as there is no actual treatment or vaccine, we have no options but to stick to these public health interventions," she said.
On Wednesday, Vice President Chiwenga, who doubles as Zimbabwe's health minister, said the country was in the process of acquiring coronavirus vaccine. A health official this week told a parliamentary committee that China and Russia were among countries that had offered to supply Zimbabwe with the vaccine.
Critics blame Mnangagwa and his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe, for allowing the country's healthcare system to decline to the point where some hospitals have no pain killers and in some cases patients are asked to bring their own water.
On several occasions in the past year, health care workers have gone on strike, citing low pay and a lack of safety gear to protect themselves against the coronavirus.