Zimbabwe jails 3 for having New Year's party despite ban

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Thousands of people attend a music concert to celebrate the new year in Mbare, Harare, Friday, Jan 1, 2021. Despite a government ban on music concerts and public gatherings due to a surge in COVID-19 infections and the new and more contagious variants of the disease, thousands of people gathered in one of the country's poorest neighborhoods to celebrate the new year. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

HARARE – A Zimbabwean court has jailed three men who organized a New Year’s Eve party attended by thousands of people in the capital, Harare, in violation of COVID-19 regulations at a time the country is facing an unprecedented surge in infections.

The three men were sentenced to 12 months in prison, with six months suspended because they pleaded guilty and did not waste the court’s time.

Zimbabwe banned New Year parties as part of measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19, which is resurging amid signs of complacency by a public not keen on following preventive measures.

Despite the ban, large parties were held in several Zimbabwean cities and towns.

The three men jailed for organizing the controversial party attended by hundreds of young people in the capital's poor Mbare told the court that they had intended to stream the event so people could watch via the internet, but crowds had gathered anyway.

Zimbabwe had recorded low numbers of COVID-19 infections since March last year when it imposed a lockdown that was later eased as infections slowed. But figures of confirmed cases and deaths have recently begun increasing significantly and the government last week reintroduced a nighttime curfew, banned public gatherings, closed beer taverns and indefinitely suspended the opening of schools.

The new restrictions, however, appear to have done little to reduce the country’s general atmosphere of complacency. Many people in working class and poor areas still congregate at shopping centers where they surreptitiously buy alcohol. Others are still gathering for church services under trees and without practicing social distancing or wearing masks while they sing and pray.

Zimbabwe has recorded more than 17,190 cases and 418 deaths, according to figures released Wednesday by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.