The government yesterday moved to exempt certain sectors from the lockdown that begins tomorrow after industry warned that forcing all companies to shut down will ground the fragile economy.
BY MOSES MATENGA
President Emmerson Mnangagwa ordered the lockdown on Friday in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in Zimbabwe.
Yesterday there were long queues of people buying basic goods in most major retail shops across the country, as panicky shoppers stocked up ahead of the 21-day-long lockout.
Last night, government said operators in the electricity sector, provision of water, gas, and fuel and information communication technology would be exempted.
Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the social welfare department had been instructed to cater for vulnerable groups, while tourists intending to travel to Zimbabwe had been told to cancel visits into the country.
Health minister Obadiah Moyo said Zimbabwe had recorded only one death, that of journalist Zororo Makamba, who died last week, with seven people having tested positive for the disease.
The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), however, said a total shutdown of industry would be catastrophic to the already comatose economy, which is plagued by currency volatility, hyperinflation and shortage of commodities.
CZI asked government to allow some business with the capacity to adequately offer preventive measures to be allowed to work during the lockdown.
“They [some companies] have done quite a lot,” CZI CEO Sekai Kuvarika told The Standard last night.
“Our economy is struggling so if we shut down, this will affect a lot of things and that is one of our recommendations to say, those with a certain level of preparedness and prevention, there is need to allow them to continue.”
Kuvakira said the economic environment was not conducive for a complete shutdown.
“There are companies that have put very stringent measures and such places are highly hygienic areas and if companies that are well prepared can be allowed maybe to produce at a limited level, maybe to cut by 50% from current production, so we are compiling to try and see then make necessary recommendations,” the CZI boss added.
“There are companies that made measures that are quite expensive in a bid to combat the spread of Covid-19.
“Their workers are not getting into public transport for example; they are picked from their homes straight into company vehicles maintaining social distance and so on.
“They are being given sanitisers to use even in their homes; they get vitamin C tablets to boost their immune system at their homes.”
Industry also proposed a number of measures to ensure that basic needs of Zimbabweans including food, water and other key essentials are catered for during the 21-day lockdown.
“Public and private organisations, their staff and service providers essential to the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity will need to continue to operate,” read the CZI recommendations submitted to government after Mnangagwa’s decree.
“This includes municipalities and the suppliers of logistics, feed stock and maintenance will be required to continue to operate and provide security of electricity supply.
“Public and private organisations, their staff and service providers essential to the security of supply of bulk and potable water and sanitation must continue to operate and provide vital water and sanitation services.
“This includes municipalities and those involved in the supply of materials, chemicals and related equipment.
“Notwithstanding the fact that non-essential businesses will be closed, there are certain critical activities that will need to be conducted from time to time within these businesses to avoid major losses.
“These include payments of statutory obligations, payments of creditors, receipt of international consignments already ordered and en route, and other critical business survival activities as may arise.”
Analysts also weighed in, saying Zimbabwe’s economy was too fragile and “street-based” to allow for a complete lockdown.
Zimbabwe joined many countries that have imposed a lockdown as a precautionary measure to reduce the number of infections.
Analysts said Zimbabwe’s largely informal economy would make it difficult for the lockdown to be effective without stepping on the toes of its impoverished population.
MDC national youth assembly chairman Obey Sithole said the lockdown was welcome, but in the absence of measure to cushion the masses with adequate basic commodities, millions that were living from hand-to-mouth would suffer.
“While the lockdown appears to be noble, in our Zimbabwean context, it becomes a heavy blow to the same human life that ought to be saved if no further measures to cushion livelihoods are put in place,” Sithole said.
“It is an open secret that our joblessness reality reached alarming levels a long time ago and this has seen a greater chunk of young people resorting to informal trading as a way of survival, every dollar that comes in the pocket is a result of their hands on hustling.”
A leaked circular by the Grain Millers Association chairman Tafadzwa Musarara to millers claimed the “command element” had given a directive to companies to advise them to negotiate pay cuts.
“Rentals payments accruing during the period under lockdown will be suspended. This moratorium will apply to both residential and business,” part of the later dated March 27, stamped “trade secret”, read. The letter did not explain if government would assume the rental debt.
But Information permanent secretary Nick Mangwana yesterday said the government would not intervene on the rentals issue.
Harare-based commentator Rashweat Mukundu said it would be impossible to enforce a voluntary lockdown.
“It is virtually impossible to put Zimbabwe into a lockdown because this is a very informal economy and the Zimbabwean economy is managed from the streets. So if you lock down Zimbabwe, it necessitates that the government intervenes in terms of providing social welfare,” Mukundu said.
“The majority of people, especially in urban areas and our government are broke, they don’t have any money.”
He said a total shutdown would result in an economic and humanitarian disaster, which Mnangagwa’s government had no means to reverse.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero said the lockdown might result in unintended consequences.
“But there is more coronavirus inside homes than the real one outside, so without safety nets that cushion the majority, the difference is the same,” he said.
Hardlife Mudzingwa of the Community Water Trust said it was difficult to implement a total lockdown in Zimbabwe due to the water crisis as it would also lead to deadly waterborne diseases that would result in another catastrophe like the 2008 cholera scourge.
Another analyst Wellington Gadzikwa said a humanitarian disaster could be imminent if there was no strategy to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic.
“Because of the nature of the economy and all these challenges, there is fear government will run out of revenue, people will run out of food and other basic commodities,” he said