BY KUDZAI KUWAZA
BUSINESS is dreading the possibility of another Covid-19-induced lockdown which could further imperil operations and result in more job losses.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of a third wave of Covid-19, with new infections and deaths rising sharply in the past fortnight.
This has forced government to impose localised lockdowns in Kwekwe, Hurungwe, Karoi, Kariba and Chiredzi where the Indian variant, the deadliest since the outbreak of the pandemic in China in 2019, is wreaking havoc.
Government has also deferred the re-opening of schools as a result of the rapid spread of the scourge.
The situation has been worsened by a shortage of Covid-19 vaccines with scores of people turned away from health centres.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Henry Ruzvidzo warned yesterday that there is need to minimise losses for the business sector should another total lockdown be necessary.
“Business can never be prepared sufficiently for lockdowns. Our hope is that should it become inevitable lessons from previous lockdowns on impacts are taken into consideration,” Ruzvidzo said.
“A lot of business activities can continue without heightening exposure to the pandemic and the enforcement of measures will need to consider this.”
Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) president Israel Murefu said another total lockdown would be catastrophic for business.
“It is difficult to be prepared for a lockdown unless, probably, a business employs technology and innovation which minimises human intervention,” Murefu said.
“Our technology, especially in the manufacturing sector is antiquated and there is little that can be done to improve it apart from a complete re-tooling and overhaul of equipment. Many businesses do not have adequate capital to do it and so they still rely on labour intensive production systems. That being the case any unplanned lockdown or disruption to their production or value chains is detrimental to the business.”
He added that the country has numerous small-to-medium enterprises and a large informal sector where the presence of human resources at the place of work is needed for production to take place.
Murefu pointed out that adapting production processes to the new normal requires a huge capital outlay and takes time.
“We hope we will not get to full-scale lockdowns,” Murefu said.
This comes as the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers has requested that the government implement a full-scale lockdown to curb the spread of the scourge. “The Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) call on President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Hon Vice-President and Minister of Health and Child Care, General Rtd Dr CGN Chiwenga, and government to implement a national lockdown owing to the continued rise in Covid-19 statistics and the impending disastrous threat posed by the deadly Third Wave,” CZR president Denford Mutashu said in a statement.
“This comes after CZR noticed a general complacency in most parts of the country, which has seen a rise in lack of physical distancing, disregard to wearing of masks, as most people quickly put on their masks when approaching police, only to take them off thereafter.”
He also called for a curfew from 8pm to 6am and the reduction of operating hours to between 8am and 4pm for essential service providers.
The Covid-19 induced lockdown, which was imposed by the government in March last year after the country recorded its first fatality from the pandemic, has had a devastating impact on business.
Emcoz has estimated that at least 30% of formal jobs countrywide were lost as a result of the Covid-19 induced restrictions with the tourism sector estimated to have lost more than US$1 billion.
Meanwhile, Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa this week accused rich countries of deliberately keeping vaccines away from Africa.
“It’s not a question of if this was a moral failure, it was deliberate,” Masiyiwa told a virtual summit on vaccine equality and equitable distribution on Tuesday.
“Those with the resources pushed their way to the front of the queue and took control of their production assets.”
Vaccine manufacturers that Masiyiwa met in December told him that “all capacity for 2021 has been sold”, despite willingness by the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team that he heads to pay upfront.
Zimbabwe is expecting two more consignments of a total of 2,5 million vaccines in the coming days, according to official sources.