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Public gatherings banned in Zimbabwe capital over cholera

Reagan MASHAVAVE
AFP News
Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak, first detected in a township outside the capital Harare earlier this month, prompted the government to declare an emergency in the city after at least 3,000 cases were reported

Zimbabwe on Wednesday banned public gatherings in the capital Harare following a cholera outbreak that has claimed at least 21 lives and left hundreds of people ill over the past week.

The outbreak, first detected in the township of Glen View outside Harare, has prompted the health ministry to declare an emergency in the city.

"In light of the declaration of the state of emergency, the police in Harare will not allow any public gatherings," police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said in a statement.

"The Zimbabwe Republic Police is appealing to members of the public to take heed of the warning and cooperate as this will assist in alleviating the continuous spread of cholera."

The ban came ahead of a planned rally by the opposition MDC party on Saturday at which it was due to hold a mock presidential inauguration of party leader Nelson Chamisa, who it claims was denied victory in the July 30 election due to fraud.

At least 21 people, including two pupils from the same school, have died over the past week in Harare from cholera and at least 3,000 haven fallen ill from cholera and typhoid, according to the health ministry.

"We are now at 3,067 cases... The number of deaths has risen to 21," health minister Obadiah Moyo told reporters on Tuesday.

One school was closed in Glen View.

- Lack of clean water, infrastructure -

Chamisa toured a health facility and called on the United Nations to help contain the situation.

"It's more than just an emergency it is a national disaster," he said.

Britain warned people thinking of visiting Harare about the cholera outbreak and urged travellers to learn to recognise symptoms of the disease.

Cholera outbreaks have occurred regularly in the city as authorities struggle to provide potable water and sanitation facilities.

Informal housing areas without running water have mushroomed and basic infrastructure has collapsed due to years of neglect.

Tests on water samples from some wells and boreholes showed the water was contaminated with cholera and typhoid-causing bacteria.

Zimbabwe, which was ruled by Robert Mugabe from independence in 1980 until his ousting last year, suffered its worst cholera outbreak in 2008.

A total of 4,000 people died and at least 100,000 people fell ill.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who succeeded Mugabe, has pledged to revive the economy and improve public services.

"To contain the outbreak and mobilise resources we have declared a state of emergency in Harare, and are working closely with our international partners," Mnangagwa said Wednesday on Twitter.

Amnesty International castigated the authorities for failing to invest in and manage basic water, sanitation and health care systems even after the 2008 outbreak.

"It is appalling that in 2018, people are still dying of such a preventable disease," said Jessica Pwiti, director of Amnesty International Zimbabwe said in a statement.

"No lessons were learned from the 2008 epidemic and the outbreak and deaths we're seeing now is symptomatic of a still broken-down sanitation infrastructure and poor sewer management, worsened by shortages of drugs and medical supplies."

She urged the Mnangagwa administration to "learn from its predecessor's mistakes" and act urgently before more lives are lost.

UNICEF advised Zimbabweans to prevent the spread of cholera by regular hand-washing, drinking only safe water, washing food, cooking it throughly, and avoiding shaking hands.

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