As Zimbabwe confirms its third Covid-19 infection, the infection has been declared a formidable epidemic disease in terms of the Public Health Act, allowing the Minister of Health and Child Care to make sweeping regulations to control the spread of the disease and to have designated medical officers order the compulsory testing, quarantining, isolation and treatment of anyone who is exposed to infection or is confirmed as infected..
The new Public Health (Covid-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) Regulations 2020 were gazetted on Monday and are valid until May 20, although they then may be extended a month at a time.
The regulations follow the confirmation last night by the Health Ministry that one of the 15 tests done yesterday came out positive. Those tested were mostly contacts of the second confirmed case and first death, Zororo Makamba, who was buried yesterday after succumbing to Covid-19 coupled with a pre-existing condition on Monday.
The new regulations partly overlap with orders already given by President Mnangagwa following the declaration of a state of national disaster, such as the ban on gatherings over the set limit. The Health Minister, after consulting the President and accepting Presidential directions, can issue the legal orders that enforce any Government action on gatherings, curfews, closure of premises and the like.
But they go into great detail for new powers given to the Chief Health Officer, who is the professional Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the director of health services in every local authority, district health officers and every medical officer of health. These enforcement officers, who issue the instructions, are to be assisted by police officers, peace officers and members of municipal police forces who are explicitly given the authority to enforce the instructions from the medical professionals.
The medical enforcement officers may order compulsory medical examinations, including taking samples for testing, order compulsory treatment, order the sequestration or disinfection of baggage and personal effects, order the evacuation of any building for up to 24 hours where those exposed to the risk of infection may have gathered, and can order the compulsory detention, isolation or quarantining of anyone for 48 hours or until they have been formally cleared to be free of infection if this takes longer to do.
Once people are confirmed to be infected, they can be further quarantined for up to 14 days within their homes, a hospital or a place of isolation. If they are so quarantined the medical officer ordering the detention must ensure these infected people have access to or are provided with the basic necessities to maintain an acceptable standard of nutrition and hygiene and can be released temporarily under specified conditions.
Those who escape from where they have been ordered to be detained, isolated or quarantined, even if this is their own home, can be arrested without warrant.
The Health Minister can approve sites to be used for isolation and quarantine for those suspected or confirmed to be infected with Covid-19.
All those who disobey instructions from the designated health officers for testing, quarantine or isolation can face a stiff fine and a year in jail.
A second batch of clauses in the regulations gives the Health Minister, in consultation with the President and conforming to Presidential directions to: impose restrictions on public traffic and movement through curfews, close schools in any local authority, and close places and worship and restrict church gatherings, restrict or regulate places of entertainment, recreation and places where alcohol is served. This has already been done.
In the event of death the minister, acting again with the President, can make any inquiries into the cause, order post-mortems and exhumations, prohibit funerals in special circumstances until a medical officer has granted a certificate, and regulate burials.
To ensure that people cannot be infected by any other articles, the minister can regulate, restrict or ban removal of merchandise or articles in or out of any area, can facilitate the disinfection of any article by providing plant and equipment, or if necessary order that article’s destruction, authorise local authorities to inspect premises and fix sanitary or other defects likely to further the spread of Covid-19, and order the evacuation, closing, alteration or even demolition of premises which, if occupied, could render more difficult the eradication of Covid-19.
The health officers enforcing the regulations have to have certificates signed by the town clerk or other chief executive officer and must show these if anyone questions their orders.