End the Covid-19 lockdown or not?

THE Zimbabwean government faces yet another tough decision at the end of this week: whether to prolong the Covid-19 lockdown or bring it to an end.
In life’s tricky decision matrix, not everything comes in black and white; there are various shades of grey in between. Nuance, context, experience, circumstance and knowledge influence decisions.

The idea is to balance the pressing needs of an already fragile economy with the considerations of a devastating global health emergency. It is a delicate balance — although we must emphasise that the health and wellbeing of citizens cannot be sacrificed on the altar of economic expediency.

But nobody can ignore the economic carnage in our midst. Livelihoods are at stake. Thousands of jobs have been lost in a country whose formal unemployment rate was already among the highest in the world.

The economic dislocation is astonishing. Even those companies which had long since buckled under the weight of economic mismanagement, incompetent leadership and corruption have found a convenient excuse to retrench workers without having to ponder the consequences.

Unlike other economies that can be rescued through stimulus packages, Zimbabwe has been in the intensive care unit for much too long to realistically expect a miraculous recovery anytime soon. What this country needs is not basic first aid, but major surgery.

So far, the signs are not encouraging. There is no leadership. There is no plan. There is no vision.We have seen cabinet ministers announcing, with straight faces, that poverty-stricken households have received ZW$180 from the government during the lockdown. How do they expect families, which need almost ZW$5 000 per month for the basics, to survive on ZW$180 for 35 days?

Now we hear that various financial packages have been cobbled up together to rescue distressed companies. It would be difficult to believe that a government which has not shown urgency in averting a humanitarian catastrophe has suddenly found millions of dollars to resuscitate collapsed firms.

In deciding whether to prolong the lockdown or not, the Zimbabwean government will no doubt peep across our borders to check what the neighbours are doing. They will opt for a phased return to full economic activity rather than a drastic approach which may rouse the attention of anxious neighbours.

A phased lifting of the lockdown is not a magic bullet, of course. The risks of a Covid-19 outbreak do not necessarily vanish. How do you ensure social distancing in schools, buses and the streets? There are no easy answers, but it is the responsibility of leaders to steer society towards solutions.

The post-Covid-19 era will present a glorious opportunity to reset and reboot Zimbabwe through genuine and far-reaching economic, social and political reforms. We do not encourage you to hold your breath though.