March 25, 2020 / 11:52 AM / in 3 days

Zimbabwe nurses walk out, customs officials protest over coronavirus fears

HARARE (Reuters) - Nurses at Zimbabwe’s state hospitals started walking off the job on Wednesday, saying the government had failed to respond to their demands for protective equipment as they brace for a battle against the coronavirus.

Customs officials at the country’s biggest airport have also stopped reporting for work, fearing exposure to the coronavirus and a lack of measures to prevent its spread, their union said.

The virus has killed one person from three confirmed cases in Zimbabwe, although the opposition and critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa accuse his government of under-reporting the number of cases.

The government denies this and Health Minister Obadiah Moyo says the government has set aside resources for the purchase of protective equipment.

“Our members think the government is not taking them seriously. We can’t afford to lose nurses to this serious pandemic,” Enoch Dongo, secretary general of the 18,000-member Zimbabwe Nurses Association said.

Junior doctors at Harare Central Hospital, the country’s second biggest, have also withdrawn their services due to a lack of protective clothing to handle coronavirus patients, their union said.

Senior doctors at state hospitals said the government should consider a total lockdown of the country and equip all its medical facilities to handle coronavirus cases.

Most businesses and informal markets remained open despite Mnangagwa’s order on Monday to shut all restaurants and pubs.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority Trade Union said its members at the main airport in the capital Harare came into contact with coronavirus while dealing with the man who died from it, but they were not tested or put into mandatory isolation.

“The workers shall not report for duty until proper measures are taken to substantially mitigate the danger,” Lovemore Ngwarati, the union’s secretary general, said.

Faith Mazani, commissioner general of Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, did not respond to calls and messages for comment.

Facing its worst economic crisis in a decade, Zimbabwe is grappling with soaring inflation and shortages of foreign currency and medicines that has crippled its hospitals.

Zimbabwe has begun receiving some of the protective and medical equipment donated to African countries by Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.

Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alison Williams

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