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Zimbabwe’s government has designated 11 rural areas across three provinces Covid-19 hotspots this week after a sharp rise in cases. The measures come as the country battles to contain a third wave of coronavirus.

Mashonaland West, Masvingo and Bulawayo provinces have been put into strict localised lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. The government had already declared hotspots in three other regions, the first in May and two others in early June.

A nationwide lockdown was announced in mid-June, the second this year. But restrictions in the hotspots are tougher than elsewhere in the country, with many businesses having to close at 3pm instead of 6pm.

Since Zimbabwe recorded its first case in March last year, semi-urban and rural areas have been considered safe zones, with most cases concentrated in the cities. But in May a rise in rural cases sparked concerns that local health services would be unable to cope.

This week, recorded cases increased 127% from the previous week, from 544 to 1,239. The country has recorded a total of 43,480 cases and 1,692 deaths, as of 24 June.

Despite a good start to its vaccination programme, Zimbabwe now has a severe shortage of vaccines.

Mashonaland West, home to about 1.5 million people, has been the hardest hit by new infections. The rise is believed to have been caused by little or no social distancing as tobacco and grain farmers travel to and from auction houses to sell produce.

“We were never a priority in the first place, which means they [the government] do not care about us. We are like lambs to the slaughter, coming here is now very scary. I hear cases are rising daily, we are not safe,” said tobacco farmer Cleopa Mushaninga, 50, from Karoi in Mashonaland West.

Read more of Nyasha Chingono’s report here: ‘We were never a priority’: Zimbabwe Covid ‘hotspots’ face strict lockdown



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