It was still early on Sunday morning when Stewart Dzivira, his wife and their two-year-old son, jumped on a bus in Glen View, a densely populated suburb of Harare, to head into Zimbabwe’s capital.

For days now, the 33-year-old has been unsuccessfully trying to get maize meal, or mealie meal, a Zimbabwean staple that has been in short supply following a devastating drought two years ago.

“We desperately need to get maize now that there is a lockdown,” Dzivira told Al Jazeera, holding his son while sitting on the concrete pavement outside a miller’s building in central Harare.

He was not alone. Hundreds of others were queueing alongside him on the eve of the start of a three-week lockdown imposed by the government to contain the spread of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“All citizens are required to stay at home, with the exception of those seeking health services, buying food, medicine and vital supplies, and those manning our essential services,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Friday as he announced the lockdown.

“I know that these measures may seem drastic, and will upset all of our daily lives, but there is no other way,” added Mnangagwa, two weeks after declaring a “national disaster” and banning gatherings of more than 100 people.

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