Zimbabwe tightens COVID rules ahead of anti-government protests

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Tuesday his government would impose a night-time curfew and tighten other measures to tackle rising coronavirus infections, adding that anyone who challenged the rules faced severe punishment.

Critics and the opposition said the new steps were linked to anti-government protests planned for next week.

On Monday police arrested an opposition official and a journalist, accusing them of inciting violence ahead of July 31 demonstrations by activists who say government corruption has exacerbated economic hardship.

“As of tomorrow, Wednesday, … all our security services must enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew set to come into force daily between 1800 hours and 0600 hours,” Mnangagwa said in a televised address to the nation.

He said anyone who encouraged actions that undermine the government’s measures “will be liable and severely punished accordingly”.

Under the new measures, from Wednesday, those without jobs will be required to stay at home, except to seek food, water and medical help. Business hours will be limited to 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., apart from those performing essential services.

Public gatherings for social, religious or political purposes remain banned.

“These measures are being taken for our collective safety. As Zimbabweans, we have to win the war against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mnangagwa said.

Zimbabwe has recorded 1,713 coronavirus cases, a relatively small number compared to neighbouring South Africa, but infections have started to rise faster in the last week.

Many citizens in the southern African nation say their economic prospects have worsened since Mnangagwa took over from the late Robert Mugabe following a coup in 2017.

Mnangagwa says the economy is being sabotaged by local and foreign opponents. His government is wary of demonstrations after the last major protests in January 2019 turned violent and scores of people died after a crackdown by security forces.

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