Coronavirus: Doctors and nurses walk out of Zimbabwe hospitals over protective equipment shortage

Vincent Wood
A council worker wears a face mask while cleaning the streets in Harare, Zimbabwe on Wednesday: AP

Hundreds of healthcare professionals in Zimbabwe have refused to work without protective equipment, beginning strike action in a standoff with the government as the nation begins to see its first impacts of coronavirus.

The southern African nation has seen three reported cases of the virus so far and one death, with neighbouring South Africa reporting 709 instances of Covid-19, which has rapidly spread across the continent.

With the risk of an outbreak increasing day by day, industry chiefs in the country have warned doctors face inadequate supplies of gloves, masks and gowns.

The president of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, Tawanda Zvakada, said doctors would return to the frontlines of the battle against the virus when adequate protection was provided.

"Right now we are exposed and no one seems to care," he said, adding that doctors have inadequate stocks of gloves, masks and gowns.

It comes as nations across the world vie for a limited stock of protective equipment to tackle the virus, which has seen more than 467,000 confirmed cases worldwide and resulted in more than 21,000 deaths.

"Our members think the government is not taking them seriously. We can't afford to lose nurses to this serious pandemic," Enoch Dongo, secretary general of the 18,000-member Zimbabwe Nurses Association said.

Junior doctors at Harare Central Hospital, the country's second biggest, have also withdrawn their services due to a lack of protective clothing to handle coronavirus patients, their union said.

Customs officials at the country's biggest airport have also stopped reporting for work, fearing exposure.

Senior doctors at state hospitals said the government should consider a total lockdown of the country and equip all its medical facilities to handle coronavirus cases.

Additional reporting by agencies