Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Tuesday that security forces will implement a dusk to dawn curfew from Wednesday to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The imposition of a curfew is the latest move by the government to halt the spread of the virus which has ravaged its neighbor South Africa.
The government earlier ordered that only civil servants providing essential services to report for work and closed down a university. Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said these decisions were a reaction to the rising number of local infections and deaths.
However, critics and opposition leaders argue that the imposition of a curfew by the government is to prevent anti-government protests planned for the end of July by activists who say widespread corruption in government has exacerbated economic hardships.
Jacob Ngarivhume, who is the leader of a small opposition party called Transform Zimbabwe, had called for the protests. He was, however, arrested on Monday along with an investigative journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono.
Chin’ono was behind an exposé of an alleged $60 million dollar procurement scandal at the Ministry of Health involving purchasing of COVID-19 medical supplies. That exposé resulted in the arrest and subsequent dismissal of Obadiah Moyo as Health minister.
Ngarivhume and Chin’ono were both charged with “incitement to participate in public violence”, according to the police.
Local media reported on Monday that the government had warned participants of the planned demonstrations that it will take stern action against them.
Zimbabwe has been gripped by unease in recent months as the government grapples with a host of challenges including a struggling economy, the COVID-19 pandemic and speculation about political unrest.
In June, the government came out to deny rumours of an impending military coup and vowed to take action against peddlers of the rumours.
Zimbabwe has so far reported 1,713 confirmed cases and 26 deaths from the deadly virus.