Zimbabwean President, Emmerson Mnangagwa has announced the relaxation of the Level 4 COVID-19 Lockdown restrictions starting today, Monday 1 March 2021.
The country experienced increased infections and deaths in January and early February following the festive season believed to be accelerated by cross border travelling, particularly to and from South Africa, a country that has been hit hardest by the Covid pandemic in Africa, but these have since declined as the government enforced the stringent lockdown restrictions.
For the first time since the beginning of the year, there were no deaths recorded during the 24-hour reporting period by last Saturday, while only 14 new cases were confirmed. The decline has brought hope that the country has managed, to a great extent, to control the spread of COVID-19, although some people remain cautious, saying that the level of testing remains low and fear that a third wave of the pandemic could still hit the country.
To date, the country has recorded 1,463 deaths from 36,054 cases, with 2,005 being active. In response to the current trends, President Mnangagwa has announced that with immediate effect the Curfew hours are now between 10pm to 530am and that members of the public no longer require letters to authorise movement. Supermarkets will now remain open until 7pm but the current social distancing should continue to be observed. The informal sectors of business have also been given the green light to open for business while schools have also been told to prepare to reopen but with the stipulated WHO guidelines in place. The government however encourages schools, colleges and Universities to adhere to virtual learning classes if they have the capacity to do so.
Other notable changes announced include the resumption of inter-city travel with Bus operators being urged to ensure cautious measures like dis-infection of all public areas of business and contacts,, wearring of masks, temperature checks and sanitisation. The maximum capacity of 30 people at funerals remain, while other gatherings have been told not to exceed 50 people. Beerhalls, Bars, Night clubs and Gyms shall remain closed while Bottle stores will be operational on condition that they sell only take aways.
These changes are with immediate effect.
In reacting to the changes, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries President Henry Ruzvidzo said the current lockdown had resulted in market and supply chain disruptions for businesses.
“The rates of infection are indeed down and can be attributed to the swift action taken January. Our expectation is that we learn from the experience of the past few months on the major sources of risk and take measured responses going forward,” said Ruzvidzo. It is important to ensure that the economy can rebound recognising the country’s limited capacity to bail out businesses. We expect more businesses to be allowed to resume operations,” he said.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers Association President Denford Mutashu said there was a need to strike a critical balance. “We need to up the tempo in the national vaccination exercise in our ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we need to strike a critical balance by ensuring we double efforts on intra-trade and open up the economy further. Borders must remain closed until at least 50 percent of the population is vaccinated,” he said.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has launched its COVID-19 vaccination program after taking delivery of the first batch of vaccines from China.Frontline workers, including journalists, are being prioritised for inoculation under the first phase of the vaccination program. Vaccination is being done on a voluntary basis and in three phases but President Mnangagwa recently warned that time will come when members of the public not vaccinated may be prohibited from using public transport.
By Eric Knight.