ZIMBABWE’S underfire industries have moved to establish a Covid-19 vaccine fund, which will bankroll drug procurements for workers and their spouses to avoid a potential labour crisis.
Workers, including leading chief executive officers (CEOs), financial directors, engineers and general labourers, were among over 1 200 Zimbabweans who had succumbed to the contagious virus in over 33 814 cases as of Wednesday this week.
Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa warned Zimbabweans to brace for more difficult months ahead, as he projected that the peak of the second wave that rattled communities from November last year may still be far away.
This could mean more instability — inducing industrial lockdowns, as government battles to manage a potentially dire crisis, while it maps out a vaccine rollout plan under a US$100 million budget announced last week.
The Covid-19 strategy was agreed by industrialists following a crunch meeting with the government on Tuesday, where the private sector tried to understand the government’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan, businessdigest understands.
Executives from the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe, Bankers Association of Zimbabwe and the Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe attended the meeting, where government was represented by the chief coordinator of the national response to the Covid-19 taskforce, Agnes Mahomva.
Businessdigest understands that private sector representatives were not convinced that the government’s vaccine plan will quickly address a dire need for drugs to avert the pandemic.
Industries want the workforce inoculated immediately to sustain operations that have been overstretched by lockdowns, which have been in place since April 2020.
The tourism sector estimates that US$1 billion in potential revenue was lost in the first 10 months of 2020, when arrivals dropped by 90%.
Jitters have torn across the business community since the ruthless second wave of the pandemic broke out during the festive season, threatening to overturn a projected 7,4% gross domestic product rise in 2021.
Mortality rates hit a tipping point when the virus claimed 70 people within 24 hours last week, as experts warned of a potential skills crisis unless Zimbabwe made efforts to procure vaccines soon.
“What the BMOs (business member organisations) wanted to get was the government’s plan — what the timelines of the vaccines are, what the plans are, how far they have gone with those plans and when we can expect a vaccine rollout,” a source told businesdigest.
“But that answer did not come out. The answer the BMOs got was ‘we are working on it and we assure you that it is under control’. The summary is that they are doing something and an announcement will be made in due course. They want us to wait for them,” our source, a leading executive in one of the major BMOs, said.
BMO leaders told businessdigest that they agreed to go back to their memberships and compile their total workforce, including spouses.
After the numbers are compiled, BMOs will come up with a budget for the drug procurement plan before approaching the government for duty exemptions.
Thereafter, vaccines will be shipped to Zimbabwe.
Businessdigest understands that generally, BMOs have agreed on the plan, although there has been discord within the ZNCC, where members offered varied opinions.
Speaking during a Zoom meeting titled; Business Preparedness, Prevention and Response Initiatives early this week, private sector executives agreed that a private sector-led Covid-19 strategy will have an immediate impact on the economy.
“The money is going to be needed now,” Sacrifice Charisa, a medical expert at Cimas, the medical aid giant, said.
“We are going to be supporting the government. Supposing it is true that they have US$100 million, it might be just for one million people (mostly) the frontline (workers who will be inoculated). The rest of the people are not yet covered. That is where the private sector needs to come in,” he said.
ZNCC president, Tinashe Manzungu said: “We are not yet done with coming up with numbers (of people to be vaccinated). But some members were not for the idea (although) the better half is supportive of that idea because they really know that if the lockdown continues it will kill their businesses”.
CZI chief executive officer Sekai Kuvarika said covering employees and their spouses will be important.
“The assumption is that children would be under 18 and therefore, maybe, not a high priority. We are also coming from the same rationale that about us extending support to the public health initiative by reducing the burden for the government,” she said.
“There are companies that may be in a position to extend some assistance to a collective effort by the private sector to procure vaccines,” Kuvarika added.