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Govt sends chilling warning to purveyors of falsehoods …As High Court orders release of new Covid strain info

By Daniel Kachere
The Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage has warned against spreading of malicious falsehoods especially with matters surrounding the “death” of top ranking officials in Government and the ruling party ZANU PF due to Covid-19.

This follows recent stories published implying that certain high-ranking officials had reportedly succumbed to the deadly coronavirus.

“Government has noted with deep concern, recent developments where mainstream media, social media and individuals are spreading falsehoods on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the nation’s leadership,” said the ministry’s permanent secretary Aaron Nhepera in a statement Monday.

“It is unacceptable and unethical to publish falsehoods in a democratic society. Let us be reminded that such acts have the effect of causing harm and despondency, not only to the individuals affected and their families, but to the nation as a whole. This has a destabilising effect at a time the nation is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Nhepera’s chilling warning follows recent reports that Vice President Constantino Chiwenga had been airlifted to China for medical treatment and that Vice President Kembo Mohadi had also been “indisposed and recuperating from home”.

Social media was also awash with insinuations that Deputy President of the Senate, Lieutenant-General (RTD) Mike Nyambuya had allegedly succumbed to Covid-19.

Other personalities such as ZANU PF’s national Political Commissar Victor Matemadanda and the party’s Finance Secretary Patrick Chinamasa were also rumoured to have died.

“Members of the public are urged to desist from such tendencies that infringe on other people’s rights and cause unnecessary distress and anguish among the people affected,” Nhepera said.

Meanwhile, the High Court has ordered the public dissemination of information relating to the new Covid-19 strain.
High Court judge Justice Mary Dube granted a provisional order compelling the Ministries of Health and Child Care, and Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services to publish all the facts surrounding the new Covid-19 virus strain 501Y.V2.

The two Ministries were cited as respondents by the applicant, Trustees (for the time being) of the Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe(MISA), represented by MISA Zimbabwe director Tabani Moyo in an urgent application they made on January 15 and heard on January 21 this year.

Accordingly, the two ministries are to forthwith widely disseminate to the public comprehensive and adequate information regarding both private and public testing, isolation and treatment of Covid-19 during the operation of the Public Health 9 Covid-19 Containment and Treatment (National Lockdown) No.2 (Amendment ) Order (No.9) [Statutory Instrument (SI) 10 of 2021].

“The respondents are hereby ordered to publish and disseminate on all available platforms in all official languages, information on the occurrence and prevalence of the Covid-19 virus strain 501Y.V2 in Zimbabwe on a regular basis.”

The order further states that if found to be existent in Zimbabwe, the Ministries must communicate the pathology of the Covid-19 virus strain as well as measures to be taken by the public in respect of the 501Y.V2 strain.

“The respondents must communicate Covid-19 statistics per each district in Zimbabwe and which statistics should include gender desegregated data.
“The respondents must communicate Covid-19 statistics in relation to immigration and cross border travel. Such reports should include the number of returning residents received and their Covid-19 status.

“The respondents must communicate additional information listing public and private testing and treatment centres their capacity and current status of occupation or usage,” it reads.

Furthermore, the ministries are supposed to publish the type and quality of medical equipment, other personnel needed, and any further procurement that has been made since the commencement of SI 10 of 2021.

In an urgent Chamber application MISA stated that the respondents were at law, obligated to ensure the collection, collation and subsequent dissemination of comprehensive public health information especially under this current lockdown due to the acute resurgence of the corona virus.
They argued that it was pertinent to disseminate accurate information which is in the public interest as such was key in the fight against the pandemic.

“Regrettably the said respondents have failed to actuate and honour the aforementioned responsibilities thus precipitating the present urgent petition. There is therefore basis for challenging the lawfulness of the conduct of the Respondents.

“The Applicant seeks relief from the respondent to urgently ensure that relevant and adequate information is availed to the public,’’ Moyo said.
“There is still no information on the nature and quantity of equipment available in the designated public and private institutions in Zimbabwe to deal with the resurgent pandemic. We are in a second and more dangerous wave of the virus and it is important that the public is made aware of the state of preparedness.”

Moyo added that shockingly, from the time the country entered the second lockdown information about the number and sufficiency of medical personnel available at national, provincial and district levels was not made public nor whether they were equipped to deal with the new variant.

In a supporting affidavit, lawyer Paidamoyo Saurombe said the applicants and the general public had a right to the provision of accurate and relevant information by the respondents.

“I concur that the genus of information being provided by the Respondents is woefully deficient and not assistive of a public that requires information to adequately deal with the resurgent Covid-19 pandemic and make decisions around exposure and prevention of further spread of the virus,” he said. Nhau/Indaba

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