EDITORIAL COMMENT : Covid-19: Let’s tighten cooperation, coordinate

The new coronavirus global pandemic has seen more than 200 000 people infected, of whom more than 80 000 are already fully recovered, more than 8 000 have died and more than 110 000 are still being treated, with ever more joining the recovered group every day.

Infection rates now appear to have peaked in the last few days and the steps being taken in most countries of the world appear to be starting to work, with China, the first country hit, now down to a handful of daily new infections contracted in the country and seeing more cases from infected citizens returning home.

The measures required are now well-known and well-tried and the Zimbabwean authorities have adopted these, reacting instantly to every single possible case to ensure that if someone becomes infected here they will be in quarantine very quickly and taking other steps to minimise the possibility of the infection spreading.

However, the steps taken globally have caused economic disruption.

So far ,the major effect on Zimbabwe is on our tourism sector, with many who were planning to visit Zimbabwe postponing their trips in light of medical advice in most countries, including our own, to minimise foreign travel and, indeed, unnecessary gatherings and crowds.

We will cope and the Government has adequate powers, especially as the declaration of a state of disaster opens doors to more flexibility, and adequate resources to keep everything going.

In many areas we are fortunate.

De-dollarisation, which has seen local industry resuming production, means that we are lot less dependent on imports of basic goods.

Not that imports of food and raw materials have been halted or slowed, but if there is any disruption we are a lot less vulnerable.

The second fortunate factor is that the first plantings of the new harvest are now almost ready.

The dubious rains may limit that harvest, but the point is that for quite a few months, starting in a couple of weeks, we will have grown enough food to feed ourselves and so we do not need to panic.

Our local industry does supply all basic needs, and even when some raw materials have to be imported, the quantities are not that large when you count it in truckloads.

Presumably if there has to be any reduction in transport, unlikely in the present circumstances, the Government and industry can arrange priorities properly.

There has been panic speculation that South Africa will close all its borders.

In fact, if people thought things through, they would realise that there are more grounds for Zimbabwe to close the border, since there have been confirmed case of Covid-19 there, but not here.

But what Zimbabwe is doing is the sensible option, screen everyone coming through the border but keep trade flowing.

The global pandemic and the actions being taken to tame and conquer it, will cause more disruption to the Zimbabwean economy than the actual pandemic itself.

We live in an interconnected world.

But back home, Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube assured the nation last week that he would come up with fiscal and monetary policy measures if the coronavirus shocks go beyond what the Government expects.

The minister said the Government had a cash surplus of $3,2 billion, which he partly committed to spend on mitigating the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since Zimbabwe does not live in isolation and given the interconnectedness brought about by the globalisation phenomena, the negative impact of the pandemic will eventually catch up with us.

In fact, we are already feeling the heat particularly in the tourism sector due to the travel bans imposed by some countries.

Yesterday, Fly Emirates suspended all flights to Harare while government cancelled the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair, which was scheduled to take place next month as a precautionary measure.

This will certainly impact trade and investment.

The extent to which local businesses and the economy at large will be affected is anyone’s guess, but the Government is already aware of what could happen and is mobilising resources and making sure we are prepared.

President Mnangagwa’s statements already have stressed the need for united action in Zimbabwe.

This is needed in following public medical advice, with the Government converting this advice into detailed decisions, such as to avoid large crowds and the like.

But it also means that economically Government, farmers and the private industrial sector need to tighten their cooperation and coordination and act together, something that is desirable in any case.

So our policy needs to be to continue doing what we are doing, avoid complacency, upgrade our efforts and our preparations, but not panic and not exaggerate the effects of the threat.

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