PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is expected to ease further the Covid-19 lockdown measures as from Monday next week, senior government officials have revealed.
However, most of the restrictions will remain.This follows a cabinet resolution on Tuesday to re-open the economy following a five-week freeze.
Mnangagwa extended the initial three-week-long lockdown on April 19.
He is expected to unveil a detailed plan, that includes the country re-opening some sectors of the economy, before the expiry of the lockdown at midnight on Sunday.
Official sources said cabinet, at its Tuesday meeting, asked the National Covid-19 Taskforce chaired by Vice-President Kembo Mohadi to come up, by the end of today, with a detailed programme on the easing of the lockdown.
Mnangagwa, who is expected to address the nation on Workers’ Day on May 1, is said to have given in to demands by the military and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), which warned him against extending the stringent lockdown measures further given the state of the economy.
As the Zimbabwe Independent reported last week, Mnangagwa also buckled under pressure and disregarded the advice of health experts who had recommended a 21-day Covid-19 lockdown extension, preferring instead to listen to his Zanu PF and Cabinet colleagues who argued that a prolonged shutdown could spark civil unrest on account of the fragile economy and a restless population.
Government officials told the Independent that ministers unanimously agreed to significantly ease the lockdown beginning Monday with the main consideration being that the current arrangement was not economically sustainable. Fears of civil unrest were also raised in the meeting.
This is despite the fact that confirmed coronavirus cases had as of yesterday increased to 32 from the 25 total recorded when Mnangagwa announced the extension. The virus has also spread to rural parts of the country like Mhondoro and Murehwa during the same period.
Mohadi reportedly assured the meeting that the country is now better prepared to deal with an upsurge of cases because it has more admission facilities and has increased its testing capacity.
“The vice-president said his taskforce had evaluated the country’s state of preparedness and was satisfied by the progress made so far as most provinces and districts now have admission facilities while sufficient quarantine centres had been identified,” an official said.
“It was then unanimously agreed that the lockdown should be significantly eased to jumpstart the economy which is already in a very bad state. The taskforce was then asked to come up with a polished programme through which the easing will be conducted but what I can tell you is that the manufacturing, construction, and other industries where there is a low risk of contagion will be allowed to re-open from May 4,” the source said.
“Retailers will be allowed to re-open during the course of the coming week while restaurants and bars, which are considered high-risk areas, will remain closed and can only be allowed to open after a week or so under strict health measures. These were proposals given to the taskforce by Cabinet members during the discussions.
“It was also proposed that schools and tertiary institutions will stay closed until satisfactory levels of containment were achieved. It was also resolved that all schools and tertiary institutions have to be thoroughly disinfected before they open and this will certainly take a long time.”
Another official said Cabinet also decided that all of the country’s ports of entry will remain closed while Mnangagwa engages his counterparts in Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique, with which Zimbabwe shares borders, to agree on a common position regarding the re-opening of ports of entry.
The government, sources said, will maintain restrictions on public gatherings of people exceeding 50 while encouraging the continuation of other control measures such as social distancing, self-isolation of confirmed cases and quarantine of returning citizens.
“What this means is that the lockdown remains very much in place but with relaxed conditions. For instance, large gatherings will remain banned and social distancing will be observed while those coming from outside the country will be subjected to the mandatory 21-day quarantine period,” the official said. “It was also agreed in the meeting that as part of the measures to contain the virus, all security sector and health workers operating on the frontline will be compulsorily tested along with members of their families. This includes those in the army, the police, the intelligence and municipal police officers in addition to nurses, doctors and everyone working on the Covid-19 frontline.”
Addressing a gathering at State House, where he was receiving Covid-19 donations from various corporates yesterday, Mnangagwa ruled out the possibility of an outright lifting of the lockdown, saying he preferred a cautious approach whereby a delicate balance is struck between saving lives and opening the economy.
“We had the first lockdown, which I extended by 14 days. When you came, I was thinking about what happens after the lockdown ends. We had been with this challenge, what do we do? Balancing the need for economic growth or saving the lives of the people?” Mnangagwa said.
“I came to the conclusion that if citizens die, if our people die, we cannot resuscitate them. Economy can die, it can be resuscitated, now or in the future, as long as people are alive. There can always be conferences on how we can resuscitate our economy, but I have never seen a conference where people will be discussing how they could resuscitate the dead. So, our bias is towards preservation of life.
“I have been studying the events worldwide, how governments handled the pandemic, some border on the lines of carelessness, some on over-cautiousness. So, we must find a way, a way, in my view, to err on the side of caution than err on the side of carelessness,” he added.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been urging countries to carefully consider their lockdown, easing strategies to prevent the possibility of fresh outbreaks, as was the case with Ghana which, according to media reports, recorded a total of 271 new coronavirus infections just 24 hours after lifting the lockdown in the capital Accra and Kumasi on Tuesday.
In total, the West African country had as of Tuesday recorded 506 new cases in the week the lockdown was lifted.
Reports from China, where the virus originated, have also suggested that the country had become vulnerable to a second wave of coronavirus infections after significantly easing the lockdown measures.