Covid-19: Lockdown measures partially eased President Mnangagwa

President Mnangagwa yesterday extended the national lockdown by another 14 days, albeit at Level 2, while announcing a ZW$18 billion Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package, designed to scale-up production in all sectors of the economy in response to the adverse effects of Covid-19. Below is the full text of the address.

Fellow Zimbabweans,
I am pleased by the commendable manner in which you continue to respond to the lockdown in our quest to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is now 34 days since we began the national lockdown. To date, our country has had 34 confirmed cases. Of these, five have recovered, while four are late. Five of the 10 provinces have recorded positive cases. From the upward trajectory of infections, it is evident that our country is yet to reach its peak.

The pandemic has continued to put a strain on both the nation’s livelihood and on businesses. Its adverse impact on the economy and on social lives has been severe.

As we plan to slowly return to a normal way of life, it is important that we adopt a National Strategy of possible exits from the lockdown, informed by the imperatives of Zimbabwe and its peculiarities. Our priority remains to reduce transmissions of Covid-19, and to gradually re-start the economy, without undermining the efforts to contain the pandemic.

A brief study has been made on how some jurisdictions in Africa have contained the prevalence of infections and also how they are adjusting to, or exiting from their respective approaches. The results have differed from country to country, with a number witnessing varied levels of spikes in infections after easing restrictions.

In our case, the lockdown has proved to be an effective strategy to curtail the proliferation of the disease in the country. In addition, measures such as the mandatory quarantine and isolation of all returnees have been key in achieving low figures.

Due to the high rate of imported cases from returnees from the UK, we must scale up public awareness on the danger posed by our returnees from the UK and other hotspots.

Our response to the challenge of Covid-19 has been enhanced by the establishment of the Covid-19 National Taskforce to lead and manage the national response.

This structure together with the setting up of the Covid-19 Disaster Fund saw a multi-sectoral response from the private sector, donors and the international community, which enriched our collective resources, competencies and skills.

It is imperative that our nation continues to act on two fronts, namely saving people’s lives on one hand, and saving the national economy, on the other hand.

Hence, we have gradually lifted lockdown restrictions in some sectors such as mining and the marketing of tobacco.

Noticing that there is now a gradual increase of infections, the lockdown will continue for the next 14 days, however relaxed to Level 2. This entails the following adjustments:

  1. All people must wear masks of any type, including home-made ones, outside their homes.
  2. The re-opening of industry and commence, provided that companies must ensure mandatory Rapid Diagnostic Testing of all employees, social distancing in the workplace, sanitisation and that all employees wear masks.
  3. Operating hours shall be from 8:00am to 3:00pm.
  4. For the avoidance of doubt the informal sector remains closed, except the agriculture and food supply chains (markets). All those who are vulnerable should approach the Department of Social Welfare to register for assistance.
  5. Public buses only, will be the mode of public transport. Omnibuses (kombis) and smaller taxis are still not permitted to operate. Bus operators must ensure that their buses are disinfected twice daily, and that commuters wear masks, have their temperatures checked and hands sanitised before boarding buses. Social distancing must also be maintained within all buses.
  6. Industry, commerce and bus operators can only re-open and operate upon fulfilling the outlined requirements. Health inspection teams will immediately randomly check for compliance. Those who fail to comply will be stopped from operating.
  7. The maintenance of mandatory and quarantine protocols in line with regional and international standards will continue. Returning residents and international travellers to the country will be put on a 21-day mandatory quarantine with full testing on Day 1, Day 8 and Day 21.
  8. Churches, gyms, bottle stores, bars, beerhalls and other leisure and recreational facilities remain closed.
  9. Gatherings of less than 50 people are to be maintained.

This partial relaxing to Level 2 is designed to restart certain sectors of the economy, while recognising the compelling credence in maintaining the lockdown.

Overall, we must remain cautious for as long as the infection curve has not converged with our health delivery readiness curve. To this end, new laboratories have been identified to increase and decentralise testing.  We envisage that this will further increase the numbers of people tested so as to inform transmission patterns and response strategies.

Zimbabwe’s strategy and response to the pandemic, as outlined above, has taken into account our nation’s realities. These include:

  1. The illegal sanctions and the associated vulnerabilities and sensitivities.
  2. A large informal economy which will impact on the nature, scope and anticipated impact of our interventions.
  3. An economy which is highly import-dependent, a situation that has exposed us to the shocks of disruptions in the external supply chain as source countries imposed lockdowns, and as international freight systems are crippled.
  4. A notable Diaspora population from the red zones many of whom are opting to come back home, thereby threatening to constitute a large number of imported cases in the country.

The continued partial lockdown is therefore critical to contain the spread of the virus, and Government has seen it fit to equally mitigate the debilitating effects of the pandemic on the economy. As such, we have put in place an Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package to respond to Covid-19.

So far our response to this pandemic has seen us putting in place a ZW$18 billion Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package, which amounts to 9 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or 28,6 percent of the 2020 National Budget. The package is proportionate to the disruption the virus has caused in our national economy.

This Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package is designed to scale-up production in all the sectors of the economy in response to the adverse effects of Covid-19.

The package will also be used to address the needs of the small-scale industries, improve health facilities, reduce poverty and hardships and assist vulnerable groups in our society.

While most countries will continue to benefit from financing packages from multilateral lenders like the IMF, World Bank and AfDB, Zimbabwe will unfortunately not benefit.

However, we remain grateful for the bilateral support we continue to receive from countries such as the People’s Republic of China, United Kingdom, India, United States of America, the United Arab Emirates, African Union and the European Union, among others. We equally commend the business community, humanitarian organisations and non-governmental organisations who are assisting the country at this time of great need.

Our Rescue and Stimulus Package of ZW$18 billion is therefore based on our aspiration to meet the diverse requirements of our national economy that include capacitating the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as those in the informal sector. These institutions have borne the worst brunt of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. An amount of ZW$500 million of the package has been set aside for the micro, small medium enterprise sector to assist this sector.

The lack of income for the small companies and individuals has resulted in an increased number of vulnerable households in the country.

This situation has been worsened by the ongoing drought which has led to huge food deficits requiring imports to bridge the gap of our requirements.

Government is therefore introducing a food grant programme to the tune of ZW$2, 4 billion for the rest of 2020.

This window is earmarked to protect the vulnerable members of our society, while additional resources will be allocated for the provision of social welfare services including the needs of pensioners.

Meanwhile, another amount of ZW$500 million will be set aside for the tourism and hospitality industry, a sector which has been hardest hit by the lockdown.

The mining sector is the largest foreign currency earner in our economy.  In order to incentivise investment in this sector, a credit support facility of ZW$1 billion will be availed.  This is designed to support large- and small-scale miners, as well as speed up the implementation of a computerised Mining Cadastral System.

To ensure employment levels are maintained or even increased where possible, an amount of ZW$3 billion will be for the manufacturing sector to assist with funding to cover capital and operational expenses.

An amount of ZW$6, 1 billion shall be dedicated to stimulate agricultural production in our quest to ensure that the country becomes self-sufficient in food production.

Over and above the efforts made to date to strengthen the health sector, Government is enhancing funding to the health sector by an additional ZW$1 billion from the facility, which will see the up-scaling of the country’s hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The funds will also be used to procure the much needed Covid- 19 testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs) for the medical personnel, and for the purchase of drugs.

An income tax break is hereby instituted with immediate effect for healthcare workers and health care institutions, for at least six months.

The funds to be availed to the productive sectors of the economy that include agriculture, tourism, mining, manufacturing and the MSMEs will be accessed through normal banking channels.  Concessional terms and conditions that include interest rate of 10 percent per annum, will apply. A grace period of six months and repayment periods varying from one to four years, depending on the nature and scope of business to be financed, will be applicable.

On another note, you will recall that, I held an indaba in Bulawayo last year with players in our creative cultural industry. Generally, this is an industry which thrives on crowds by way of shows, performances and exhibitions. Expectedly, the lockdown has denied this vital sector the crowds which are its vital lifeline.

I have therefore instructed the Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation, Dr Kirsty Coventry, to make a proposal to Government on how best this sector can be helped to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are optimistic that this ZW$18 billion Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package will re-launch the Zimbabwean economy on a strong trajectory, characterised by higher productivity and supportive of job retention and creation.

Turning to the education sector, we are all aware that the current Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted teaching and learning in schools, colleges and universities.

The ministries of Primary and Secondary Education and that of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development have been in constant consultations with parents, guardians, teachers, heads of schools, principals of colleges, university vice chancellors and teachers’ unions on how to ensure the safe re-opening of schools, colleges and universities. Discussions are ongoing.

However, it is clear that our country is not yet in a position to re-open schools, colleges and universities.

A number of health conditions must be met first to guarantee the safety of pupils, students, teachers, other workers in the education systems and the entire nation.

To this end, the two Ministries of Education are working closely with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development with regards to the necessary steps towards the re-opening process.

Government is aware that there are final examination classes, which are scheduled to complete their studies this year, including others who were left with a few weeks to complete their programmes.

The re-opening strategy will, thus, prioritise students who are taking their final examinations this year.

Furthermore, the two ministries are working with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and our cooperating partners to put in place online and distance learning facilities to ensure that the students continue having access to learning materials.

The announcement of the re-opening dates will be made at the appropriate time, but for now, schools remain closed.

I appeal to all stakeholders to continue to appreciate and recognise that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic presents a continuously evolving health situation that requires extreme caution on the part of Government in order to protect everyone in the entire nation.

We would rather err on the side of caution and not on the side of recklessness. We are all individually and collectively responsible for the implementation of these measures. Let us all play our part.

God bless you all.

God bless Zimbabwe.

I thank you.

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