Farirai Machivenyika Senior Reporter
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa yesterday extended the lockdown by another two weeks, but allowed formal businesses to reopen under strict conditions, while an $18 billion package to resuscitate all economic sectors and vulnerable groups was announced.
As part of the conditions for further relaxation, it will be compulsory to wear masks in reopened businesses and outside homes, although these can be home-made, and reopened businesses will have to have all staff tested by public health authorities before opening and have temperature scanners.
With more people going to work, exemption letters needed for travel are no longer required.
The President announced the extension and the new exemptions at State House where he stated that a longer lockdown was needed given the recent gradual rise in infections.
Latest statistics on Covid-19 show that Zimbabwe now has 40 confirmed positive cases, including five recoveries and four deaths while a total of 7 642 screening and diagnostic tests have since been done.
The decision to reopen the formal sector follows calls by the business community for the Government to save the sector from possible collapse. But the informal sector outside of agriculture and farmers’ markets and some manufacturing, which were allowed to operate under previous phases of the lockdown, will remain closed.
The extra exemptions take Zimbabwe from Level Four of total lockdown to Level Two.
The intermediate Level Three was reached when agriculture, mining and manufacturing were exempted. The President announced several measures adopted for the two-week extension.
“All people must wear masks of any type, including home-made ones, outside their homes,” he said.
“The reopening of industry and commerce, provided that companies must ensure mandatory rapid diagnostic testing of all employees, social distancing in the workplace, sanitisation and that all employees wear masks. Operating hours shall be from 8am to 3pm.”
President Mnangagwa said the informal sector would remain closed, except for those in the agriculture and food supply chains. Vulnerable groups should approach the Department of Social Welfare to register for assistance.
“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,” President Mnangagwa said.
Intercity public transport remains banned.
He said only those in industry and commerce and the bus operators that could fulfill these requirements would be allowed to re-open and operate.
Health inspection teams would immediately start random checks for compliance, while those who do not meet the requirements would be stopped from operating.
Churches, gyms, bottle stores, bars, beer halls and other leisure and recreational facilities will remain closed while bans on gatherings of more than 50 people are to be maintained.
“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,” President Mnangagwa said.
He added that Government had studied how other African countries were dealing with the pandemic.
“The results have differed from country to country, with a number witnessing varied levels of spikes in infections after easing restrictions,” President Mnangagwa said.
“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.”
He added: “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.”
Meanwhile, President Mnangagwa also revealed that the ZW$18 billion Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package was nine percent of the country’s gross domestic product, or 28,6 percent of the 2020 National Budget.
“This Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package is designed to scale-up production in all the sectors of the economy in response to the adverse effect of Covid19.
“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,” he said.
He said the funds to be availed to the productive sectors of the economy that include agriculture, tourism, mining, manufacturing and the medium and small scale enterprises would be accessed through normal banking channels.
“Concessional terms and conditions that include an interest rate of 10 per cent 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,” he said.
Some of the measures he introduced include a $2,4 billion food grant programme for the rest of 2020 targeting vulnerable groups, while additional resources will be allocated for the provision of social welfare services including the needs of pensioners.
He also set aside $500 million for the tourism and hospitality industry that has been the hardest hit by the lockdown while $1 billion has been reserved for the mining sector.
“This is designed to support large and small-scale miners, as well as speed up the implementation of a computerised mining cadastral system.
Highlights of new rules
1) Lockdown extended by 14 days
2) Partial easing of lockdown, business to open on conditions
3) Exemption letters no longer needed
4) Health authorities to screen employees
5) Working hours from 8am-3pm
6) $18 billion economic rescue package
7) All people to wear face masks, homemade if necessary, outside home
8) Only public transport buses allowed
9) Intercity buses still banned
10) Kombis and taxis banned
11) Income tax break for healthcare workers
12) Schools not yet ready for reopening.
13) Churches, pubs, gyms remain closed.
“To ensure employment levels are maintained or even increased where possible, an amount of $3 billion will be for the manufacturing sector to assist with funding to cover capital and operational expenses,” he said.
The President allocated $6,1 billion to stimulate agricultural production and 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 $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 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 6 months,” President Mnangagwa said.
Turning to the re-opening of the education sector, President Mnangagwa said discussions among stakeholders were ongoing. “However, it is clear that our country is not yet in a position to re-open schools, colleges and universities,” he said.
“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 reopening process.”
He added that reopening strategy would thus prioritize students who are taking their final examinations this year while the two education ministries were working with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and cooperating partners to put in place online and distance learning facilities to ensure that the students continue having access to learning materials.