Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe has cancelled its largest annual trade event, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), slated for April, together with all gatherings of more than 100 people in a bid to curb coronavirus infections.

The government also canned April 18 independence celebrations.

According to unconfirmed reports, Zimbabwe recorded its first coronavirus case on Tuesday, a Bulawayo woman who had just arrived from SA. Zimbabwe's health system is in disarray, and authorities are on high alert.

With Zimbabwe's economy in a shambles and unemployment above 90%, more than a million of its citizens work in SA and millions others depend on trade between the two countries. The landlocked country relies on shops in SA for most of its basic retail needs.

In recent years, Zimbabwe has struggled to handle outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid, leading to many deaths. Experts say that without outside help the country will be hit hard by the virus.

Held annually in the second-largest city Bulawayo, the ZITF  is the country’s largest trade gathering, attracting hundreds of investors from around the world. It has become a key event and revenue earner for the city.

At a press conference at his official residence in Harare, President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared coronavirus a national disaster.

“Government has decided to postpone, curtail or cancel public events, gatherings and activities. In that respect government has postponed the ZITF. All national independence day celebrations previously planned, and pending international sporting fixtures have been postponed until the threat of coronavirus recedes.”

Schools in Zimbabwe would remain open until they closed in two weeks’ time. Church gatherings were discouraged.

While all ports of entry would remain open, there would be strict screening of all those entering the country, Mnangagwa said.

At the weekend, defence minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri described coronavirus as God’s way of punishing the US and other western countries for imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe. But Mnangagwa sought to distance himself from the remarks, saying “nations of the world have to stand as one” in fighting the disease.

“While we are relieved that our country is still free from the virus, which continues to spread elsewhere across people, communities, countries and continents, we stand in full solidarity with all people and nations of the world so far affected by the pandemic,” the president said hours before the unconfirmed reports about the Bulawayo woman.