Power situation, data charges can undo Zim`s COVID-19 progress

Power situation, data charges can undo Zim`s COVID-19 progress
Power situation, data charges can undo Zim`s COVID-19 progress

Power situation, data charges can undo Zim`s COVID-19 progress

By Joel Mandaza

Zimbabwe has in the past three months seen a significant drop in COVID-19 cases, deaths have been at the lowest with most days in the past month seeing zero deaths being recorded.

This has made authorities buoyant, with Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Monica Mutsvangwa declaring that COVID-19 is now under control in Zimbabwe.

The reprieve which is being welcomed by many whose lives had been disrupted by the numerous lockdowns is a result of better temperatures and measures by some organisations, including the government to reduce the size of their workforce.

Working from home as a concept has seen those who have the capacity to avoid visiting their respective offices.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation that people avoid movements unless they are extremely important could be undone if the power deficit facing the country is not rectified.

Zimbabwe needs 2200 megawatts of power at peak, and all the energy generation infrastructure in Zimbabwe can manage a meagre 1400 at best.

In the past days, some suburbs have been going for as much as 12 hours without electricity.

ZESA has failed to respond, the nearest they are promising to attempt an aim at full capacity is in the next four months.

The power utility`s executive secretary Sydney Gata has been frank that the long term solution to the country`s power problem is getting private players on board, through expediting independent power producers.

A number of solar farms have been written about, but very few among them have been able to feed into the national grid due to bureaucratic delays.

With no end in sight, the power problem is turning into a possible obstacle in Zimbabwe`s fight against COVID-19.

It is reactivating movements of the young and the working class, who had opted to stick to the modern way of doing business through virtual avenues.

Besides their affinity to convenience, the working class and the tech-savvy youths, WHO, in its May 2021 COVID-19 workplace infections policy brief argues that the manner in which offices are structured makes it hard for infections to be contained and managed.

“Transmission occurs in settings outside of medical facilities, most often indoor crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected persons spend long periods of time with others.

This suggests that SARS-Cov-2 transmission is particularly effective in crowded, confined indoor spaces where there is poor or no ventilation,” says WHO.

Explaining its occupational factors contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, the brief stated that “workplaces with the physical person to person contact, inadequate ventilation and shared accommodations, travel or eating areas, have reported higher rates of COVID-19.”

WHO-2019-nCoV-Workplace-actions-Policy-brief-2021.1-eng.pdf

The policy brief concluded that remote work significantly reduces COVID-19 infections.

Zimbabwe, on the other hand, seems to be going against science, crowding offices again forgetting how thin the public health system is.

Despite the virus nearing its second year as a global health concern, Zimbabwe is yet to accumulate enough ventilators for all public hospitals.

During the third COVID-19 wave around June, the whole of Harare and dormitory towns surrounding it, a population of more than two million, were reliant on a 200-bed Parirenyatwa COVID-19 red zone.

Thousands have been forced back into commuting and office life, where familiarity is easy.

Adding on top of the problems are the spiking data charges in Zimbabwe.

Econet, the company with the largest market share on the data market, is charging about ZWL$5500 for 25 Gig, which translates to about US$30 at the generous street rate.

If one is using the official interbank rate, it means 25 Gig needs about US$55.

At the street rate, a Gig of data in Zimbabwe (as faced by most users) costs about US$1.20, while at the rate recommended by authorities, data in Zimbabwe costs about US$2.2 per gig.

A public teacher earns about ZWL$18 000, they would struggle to get 100 Gigabytes of data on their salary.

Their plight is not unique, many employees in the country are earning lower than their regional colleagues, doctors have mounted numerous strikes decrying low salaries.

This is why many are finding themselves back in their work cubicles, even when they could contribute to their respective companies from home.

A recent survey showed that many remove masks once getting into their offices, despite the workspaces being shared in some cases.

Eliminating remote work has consequences in fights against COVID-19.

If another wave comes and people are not able to work from home due to the ongoing power situation, what will happen?

People will be forced to risk their lives because no company in the Zimbabwean economy can afford to send people home to be unproductive unless they are retrenching.

The probable outcome is that either lives or jobs will be lost.

Whenever cases start spiking, the government has a ready answer blaming it on the complacency of the general citizenry.

Barely do they look into these seemingly small variables like how power cuts, data increases and water shortages can make their ‘stay at home’ messaging seem out of touch with reality.

Either way, Zimbabweans do not need any of those realities. This is why Zimbabwe should sort out the power crisis.

It can easily degenerate into a public health albatross. Europe is starting to show signs of distress under what could be the fourth wave, Zimbabwean authorities need to pre-empt another wave by taking proactive measures in dealing with nuanced sectoral issues that force people to disobey COVID-19 regulations.

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