Fungi Kwaramba Political Editor
Zimbabwe is returning to almost full economic activity with an orderly reopening of the informal economy, where three quarters of the economically active population earn their living, but under the “new normal” of masks, registration with local authorities, high levels of personal hygiene, social distancing and minimum non-business travel.
The further orderly and regulated opening of the economy announced yesterday by President Mnangagwa was possible because of the low infection rates within the country following the original lockdown in the very early stages of the pandemic hitting Zimbabwe. By last night, the number of confirmed Covid-19 positive cases had reached 343, with another 11 cases announced yesterday, all among returning residents and citizens in formal quarantine.
Almost all cases have been in this quarantined group with very few infections within the community, thanks to the quarantining and strict safety precautions that will continue to be enforced.
Announcing new permitted activities, President Mnangagwa stressed that Zimbabwe remained under Level Two lockdown and that with the threat of Covid-19 still hanging over the country, people had to embrace the new normal ways of living to minimise the risks of infection.
All in the informal sector needed to register before resuming operations, with a Government spokesman last night saying this meant registering with their local authority under long-existing regulations. Fuller details would be available within a few days, with the legally required amendments to the lockdown regulations.
Compulsory wearing of masks in public, and other laid down rules such as washing or sanitisation of hands and social distancing would remain.
Most of the formal sectors, along with agriculture, food markets, tobacco marketing and the informal industrial sector, have already been allowed to reopen under set conditions and, in many cases, restricted opening hours.
At the same time, the moratorium on rent payments will be ended but rent arrears can be settled in instalments over six months.
Religious services with a maximum of 50 people present can now resume and in full compliance of the Covid-19 prevention measures.
People have been urged to travel only when necessary.
In his Covid-19 update address at State House, the President said the threat posed by the global virus is still hanging over Zimbabwe and therefore people should start embracing the new normal that has been brought by the pandemic, which at present has no cure.
“Over the last few months, you have been burdened with a truly heavy task. This is not an ordinary period in our history. A new normal has emerged. For the first time, we have asked you not to go to work, not to see your families, and to keep your distance from each other. This is the very opposite of the Zimbabwean way which is characterised by warmth and closeness. The vast majority of Zimbabweans have acted selflessly, and with great responsibility.
“Like a country in wartime, you put your nation first and put aside individual needs and rights. You understood that the battle against this deadly virus which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives around the world, is an existential threat, one which is of the proportion of a conventional war,” said the President.
The rapid response by the Government, to enforce a national lockdown following the first reported case of Covid-19 has been credited with minimising infections in the country.
Even as the country and the world at large is yet to emerge from the contagion and its crippling effects on global economies, the President said Zimbabweans have to work hard under the new normal and pledged to ensure that the country will enjoy, the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and religion as well as freedom to vote in free and open elections as promised by the Second Republic under his leadership.
The effects of the worldwide pandemic have been made worse by the fact that Zimbabwe was still emerging from decades of economic recession when it was forced to declare a lockdown, while the impact of natural disasters such as Cyclone Idai and successive droughts was still very much bei0ng felt.
“These are hardly the conditions in which to implement tough spending cuts and deep structural economic reforms. But we have no choice. If we do not reform now, we will continue to drown in debt or peddle along in mediocrity. Zimbabweans deserve better. Zimbabwe deserves better.
“Although our lockdown remains at Level 2, let us begin to further open up, remembering that we all have a role to play. Government, hand in hand with an empowered private sector, will do all in its power to open up the economy, to provide the jobs and the opportunities the people of Zimbabwe so richly deserve.
“Likewise, the creation of jobs, the commitment to new opportunities for our talented youth, must once again be driven to the top of our agenda. We cannot and will not allow the period of Covid-19 to appear in our history books as anything more than a mere hurdle which we jumped over along the path to prosperity.
“As your President, I commit that we will work twice as hard, work with promise and purpose, to improve your lives, and to give your children a better future. It is time to accelerate our development. From the pains of the pandemic, we must now find new impetus in rebuilding.
“The liberalisation of our economy must continue in earnest. This includes the privatisation of bloated State industries which must now be expedited. Investment commitments must now be turned into tangible jobs. Our creative people must be allowed to grow and prosper,” said the President.
He added that reforms that are “stuck in the wheels of bureaucracy, must be unleashed, catalysed and implemented. The time for action is now. However, as the workforce is slowly released from a painful lockdown, let us remember that we are not returning to the old normal, but to a very new normal which must cause each and every one of us to rethink our lives. How we communicate, how we do business, how we meet and greet, and how we protect the health of our neighbours, our family, and indeed ourselves”.
The President reminded Zimbabweans, to observe the Covid-19 preventive measures that he said although they may look “rudimentary” can save lives.
“In this new normal, we must be vigilant. We must not rest. The virus is still with us. It has neither disappeared nor been destroyed. It has neither vanished nor been vanquished; it lives amongst us. So please act with caution. Wear a mask at all times when you are outside your homes.
“Don’t cough into your hands and maintain social distance wherever possible. Do not spend time in enclosed spaces with strangers, and ensure that windows are open in workspaces. Wash or sanitise your hands regularly and thoroughly.
“This may seem rudimentary, but these small acts may just save the life of your grandmother or grandfather, brother or sister, mother or father, friend or co-worker; even your own life. This will not last forever. We will — someday — return to the warm ways of Zimbabwe once again. However, the status-quo and the immediate future demand our active diligence,” said the President.
In the fight against the global pandemic, Zimbabwe has received assistance from both local and international partners noticeably China, a country that the President saluted for coming to the assistance of Zimbabwean people during the ominous times of Covid-19.
Apart from coming up with a scientific approach to the new normal, the President has also called upon the whole nation to prayer and fasting on Monday to seek divine intervention against the global contagion.