By Leopold Munhende
FINANCE Minister Mthuli Ncube says government’s biggest priority for now was to save citizens from Covid-19 as opposed to opening the country for people to pursue livelihoods.
He was speaking at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport where some government officials were receiving the country’s first batch of Covid-19 vaccines in the form of 200 000 doses of Sinopharm donated by China.
“Our strategy as a government in dealing with the pandemic is saving lives first and then livelihoods,” said Ncube.
“The vaccine constitutes a silver bullet in terms of dealing with the pandemic and saving lives.”
Ncube was speaking several hours before President Emmerson Mnangagwa extended the country’s month-and-half-long lockdown by a further two weeks.
Millions of citizens have been locked out of their sources of income as government takes tougher measures against the continued spread of a disease that has killed over 1 400 since the first case was confirmed last March.
Meanwhile, Ncube said government was in the process of acquiring an additional 600 000 doses of the lifesaving medicine.
“This is the beginning; we thank the People’s Republic of China for this gesture,” he said.
“Next month, we will be acquiring additional vaccines from China to the tune of at least 600 000 doses and the programme will continue as we head towards a target of 1.8 million from China.
“We will carry on until we are able to cover the herd immunity population of at least 10 million Zimbabweans. Only then will we know everyone is protected, at least the virus will be slowed down.”
The vaccine, which arrived aboard an Air Zimbabwe jet, was received by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga who is Acting Health Minister, and Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun.
Zimbabweans, most of whom survive on vending have been exposed to unprecedented levels of hunger and poverty as a result of the restrictions that virtually closed all informal businesses.
A paltry $300 (US$3) government grant to cushion citizens was not received by intended beneficiaries even though it was not even enough to buy a 10kg bag of maize meal.
However, if properly and expeditiously managed, Zimbabwe could be the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to vaccinate its population.
Although it is yet to make public its vaccine rollout programme, government indicated it will prioritise health personnel, schoolteachers and employees at the country’s ports of entry, among others in the historic inoculation process.
Discussion on how the vaccine will be administered have also not begun.