Restaurants are legally allowed to be open for selling take-away food in their licensed hours, and do not have to close at 4.30pm, the Covid-19 taskforce has said, while extra steps are being taken so cross-border truck drivers do not mix with the public and returnees face minimal risk of infection while in quarantine.
Truck drivers will only be allowed to stop at the already-designated stopping points for refreshment and rest, with police intensifying enforcement, and Zimbabwean cross-border truck drivers at the end of a shift or series of shifts and wanting to return home must undergo normal quarantine procedures for returning residents.
With almost all confirmed infections of Covid-19 being among returning citizens and residents being found in tests at quarantine centres, the health authorities will now give the diagnostic PCR test, rather than just screening tests, on the first day of quarantine to ensure those who test negative can be quarantined more safely while those found to be infected can be swiftly isolated.
There had been confusion over when restaurants and take-aways could operate, with police usually ruling that they must close with other formal businesses at 4.30pm.
But yesterday Attorney- General Mr Prince Machaya said restaurants were not covered under the Covid-19 working hours for non-essential formal businesses, as the law clearly spelt out, since they were providing an essential service. He was responding to questions raised at the National Taskforce on Covid-19 press briefing in Harare yesterday.
“The situation regarding restaurants is governed by Statutory Instrument 83 published on March 28.
“The whole objective of this provision, was to ensure that there were food outlets open to serve those people considered to be an essential service under the lockdown order in question, who may need to buy food at varying hours of the day. And implicit in that provision was that restaurants can operate within their permitted hours as per their operating licences,” said Mr Machaya.
He said restaurants were therefore not covered by the hours introduced under level 2 of the national lockdown for ordinary formal businesses.
“Those hours do not affect the operations of restaurants and it is clear that those working hours apply to businesses in the formal commercial and industrial sector that are not essential service.”
The licensed hours are set by the relevant local authority and can be the full 24 hours in a day in a few cases.
But restaurants and take-aways are not allowed to let customers eat on the premises, unless they are hotels serving guests, and are not allowed to serve alcohol.
Speaking at the same occasion, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Government has also tightened enforcement of lockdown provisions especially among truck drivers and returnees where a huge number of cases were being reported.
“In view of the risk of transmission posed by truckers and returnees, the following measures have been put in place to reduce the said risk: The increased enforcement through joint roadblocks in order to flush out rogue truck drivers so that they are penalised if they are contravening lockdown regulations and simplified educational materials are to be distributed to truckers so that they familiarise themselves with regulations guiding their stay in the country,” said Minister Mutsvangwa.
Some of the regulations in line with SI 93 of 2020 include truckers stopping at designated stops, subjecting themselves and their goods to disinfection should they offload here in Zimbabwe.
Every driver, being a citizen of Zimbabwe, shall also be treated as a returning resident and will be required to go into either mandatory quarantine or isolation.
All returning citizens and residents will now be given the diagnostic PCR test for Covid-19 on their first day back in Zimbabwe before being quarantined, if the test is negative, or isolated, if they are ill, to minimise the risk of infection within quarantine centres.
Follow-up tests will be conducted during the 21-day mandatory quarantine period.
The switch from screening tests to diagnostic tests comes in the wake of the continued rise in infections among returnees, raising concern that people might be infecting each other in the quarantine facilities.
Speaking to The Herald yesterday, Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said while Government cannot tell if the infections were happening in quarantine centres or before the returning citizens and residents were taken into centres, the bulk of cases continue to be imported.
“This means that we have to concentrate on testing in the quarantine areas at early stages, on day one before people even get to know each other or mixing within that area. We must be able to distinguish on that very day that this one is positive and that one is negative so that we know straight away whether to isolate or quarantine the concerned returnees,” said Dr Moyo.
Government has already put systems in place to allow for PCR testing on all returnees as they come in.
Previously, Government was screening returnees on arrival, using the rapid diagnostic test and temperature checks, but that has not been helpful in certain diagnosis and splitting the well from the ill.
Dr Moyo said RDT was just for screening, which gives a general picture of the actual burden, but for diagnosis, it is PCR that is important.
“So in order for us to be 100 percent certain that there is no infection or cross infection within the quarantine areas, we must do PCR testing before the returnees enter the quarantine area,” said Dr Moyo.
The Health ministry will continue liaising with other Government departments such as the ministries of Public Works and National Housing, and Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, to ensure that conditions were conducive and do not expose returnees to Covid-19.
Commenting on the same issue, Monitoring and Implementation Committee chairperson in the Inter Ministerial Taskforce on Covid-19, who is also Minister of Defence and War Veterans Affairs Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, said Government was concerned by the number of returnees escaping from quarantine facilities.
She said security had been tightened at the facilities.
In a provisional order issued by the High Court last week, Government was ordered to ensure that returning residents were tested on day 1, day 8 and day 21 of the quarantine period.
It was also ordered to house returnees in such a manner that social and physical distancing was maintained and ensure that living conditions were conducive at all times.
The application was made by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights on behalf of the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights.
Returnees from South Africa and Botswana now form the overwhelming majority of the 282 Covid-19 infections recorded in Zimbabwe.