By Nkululeko Sibanda
Zimbabwe’s indefinite lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus could sound a death knell to an ailing economy and lead to massive job losses, experts have warned.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday announced that the lockdown measures that were reviewed a fortnight ago would largely remain the same.
Mnangagwa said he would make reviews every two weeks until Zimbabwe is in a position to deal effectively with the flu-like disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of people globally.
John Robertson, a veteran economist, said investors were likely to move to countries with flexible lockdown conditions while many companies would shut down.
“For me, the indefinite declaration means that this lockdown might as well be in place for the next six months and on a fair analysis, this means that there
are businesses that will gradually shut down their operations in Zimbabwe, with the investors shifting base to find home in other countries that have flexible lockdowns,” Robertson told The Standard.
“This will result in serious job losses and the effects this will have on the economy is going to be very negative.”
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce CEO Christopher Mugaga said closed borders would cripple industry.
“There will be much negative impact to the economy at macro level given that the borders remain closed and Zimbabwe’s industry is highly dependent on imports to operate,” Mugaga said.
“However, the negative impact is much more felt at household levels given that the informal economy remains closed and there seems to be no credible path to reopen it.
“Obviously no one including the government has a solution to deal with the informal economy and their wish is to see it vanish with lockdowns, but unfortunately that won’t be the case.
“An extended lockdown implies less labour productivity with fixed costs to do with employment costs continuously weighing on profitability given that markets for businesses to seek their goods notably outside the country remain closed.”
MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa said the “Indefinite extension opens a treacherous avenue to arbitrary rule”.
“It indefinitely suspends the exercise of civil rights, which are necessary checks and balances on the excesses of government power,” Chamisa said.
Mnangagwa said the decision to maintain the lockdown indefinitely was made to ensure that the coronavirus pandemic would not worsen in Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwe will, therefore, continue on the Level 2 lockdown for an indefinite period,” he said.
“We shall have regular two-week interval reviews to assess progress or lack of it.”
Mnangagwa said government had decided to keep the ban on public transport in place, allowing only the struggling Zupco to continue operating in the cities and towns across the country.
“Commuter omnibuses, kombis, unregistered taxis, mshika-mshika remain banned,” he said.
“Only Zupco buses and Zupco-contracted commuter omnibuses with a stipulated number of passengers and adhering to the sanitisation and disinfection regulations will be permitted to operate.”
Schools, Mnangagwa said, would largely remain closed save for classes due for public examinations and final year college and university students.
“Public exam classes within schools and final-year students at colleges and universities must be allowed to continue recognising, however, the stipulated Covid-19 prevention measures,” he said.
“Meanwhile, clear plans of the phased re-opening of schools continue to be put in place (by the relevant ministry).”
Face mask wearing and social distancing regulations would remain in force.
Mnangagwa said projections were that if the country had not gone on lockdown on March 30, 100 Covid-19 cases would have been recorded by April 29.
“The country undertook intensive surveillance and a case-finding approach to the coronavirus where we needed to have conducted 33 340 tests to identify the 1 000 cases,” he said.
As of Friday, Zimbabwe had recorded 40 Covid-19 cases with four deaths amid concerns that the authorities were not testing enough people.