By John Cassim
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AA) - Zimbabwe on Tuesday turned a $39-million hotel at its border with South Africa into a medical quarantine center for use by returning Zimbabwean residents.
"The former Beitbridge Rainbow Hotel will be used as a transit isolation center to cater for returning residents from South Africa," said Arthur Manase, who heads the country's national social security authority, which owns the building.
"This means every Zimbabwean who passes through the Beitbridge border post from South Africa will be quarantined for 21 days as a precautionary measure," Manase said in a statement.
The building had been under refurbishment since 2018 and was empty before being turned into a quarantine center.
Both South Africa and Zimbabwe decreed 21-day lockdowns in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, leading to the closure of the Beitbridge border gate that separates the two countries.
Hundreds of people intending to travel to Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo were stranded until South African Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi intervened on Monday.
"I came here because I was anticipating trouble with human beings who wanted to cross over as I saw lots of people leaving Gauteng. These people were heading to Zimbabwe and other regional countries.
"We negotiated with the Zimbabwean counterparts to briefly open the border and allow these people to cross and ease the pressure on Mussina town," Motsoaledi said.
Zimbabwe has declared that all residents of Zimbabwe crossing the Beitbridge border during the lockdown period would face a mandatory quarantine, hence the transformation of the hotel into a quarantine center, while the nationals of other countries would be allowed to transit unless they showed COVID-19 symptoms upon screening at the border.
While Zimbabwe has eight confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death, South Africa has more than 1,300 cases and three deaths; both countries have put in place similar measures aimed at reducing the spread of the disease.
After first appearing in Wuhan, China in December, the virus has spread to at least 179 countries and regions, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
The number of confirmed cases worldwide has surpassed 803,600, while the death toll is more than 39,000. Nearly 173,000 patients have recovered.