Editorial Comment: Lockdown extension with economy restart sensible

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Editorial Comment: Lockdown extension with economy restart sensible
President Mnangagwa

Public health requirements meant that yesterday President Mnangagwa had to extend the lockdown for a further two weeks, but using this period of tight controls on movement to continue restarting the economy by adding mining and manufacturing to agriculture as permitted economic activity.

Basically, Government faced two options: Either maintain the lockdown, with controlled adjustments, or end the lockdown but put in place a wide range of controls. The actual outcome would probably be the same, but there are advantages in maintaining the lockdown, but widening the list of exemptions.

Under a lockdown, all movement and congregating of people is banned except what is specifically permitted. Under a controlled lifting everything would be permitted except what was banned.

In the early steps of restarting an economy, the first option is easier to enforce and operate.

Under the initial lockdown regulations, defined essential services and businesses were permitted to operate and people were allowed out of their homes to buy food and medicines, and in many areas to collect water.

The next sectors to gain exemption were farming, farmers’ markets and food markets, although these were permitted on condition a range of public health controls were enforced. This has ensured people can eat during the lockdown, but in some areas more effective enforcement is still required.

Mining was an obvious sector to be next on the exemption list, since almost all mines have all their staff living in company housing near the mine.

This allows easier control of staff. Mining companies will, however, have to take precautions and follow health rules. Visitors to mine housing complexes can, and must, be controlled and workers can be checked as they enter workplaces and when they return to the staff housing.

At work they will be maintaining social distance. Employers will need to have policies in place to deal with any potential outbreak of Covid-19 and for enforcing quarantine rules if a worker has to stay at home.

The opening of manufacturing, essential for economic reasons, will need high levels of cooperation between factory owners and informal manufacturing complexes on one hand and health experts on the other.

This can be done, largely because both formal and informal manufacturing is not done on the street in public. Factories and manufacturing complexes in the informal sector have gates, so staff and others can be checked on entry and social distancing, good hygiene and other rules can be easily enforced.

The restart of manufacturing may well require some thought to be given to public transport. Zupco has been managing to move essential workers without strain, and can cope with more as most buses now running can take extra passengers without breaching seating rules and many buses can do more trips in a day.

But if extra transport is needed then Zupco should be allowed to work out ways its franchised kombi fleet can be brought back into service. This might require a change in the subsidy system temporarily to allow seating rules to be enforced, but Zupco has shown it can enforce rules on its franchised services for both large buses and kombis.

As mines, factories and informal manufacturing re-start, the Government and health authorities will learn a great deal over what is needed, where enforcement is easy and where hard, and how people react to precautions.

This will be needed as further sectors are reopened to business, so that each step can be carefully taken without adding to our dangers.

The Government must have learned a lot from the original need to keep essential services, including food shops, open. All supermarkets now insist on a set of simple rules: the number of customers in the shop at any one time is limited, with those waiting expected to queue with adequate social distancing; all customers entering the shop have to sanitise their hands; a growing number of supermarkets now have those simple temperature scanners; and opening and closing hours are enforced.

People are ready to follow these rules; indeed many go beyond them by maintaining greater than minimum social distancing and most understand why they cannot all crowd together in the shopping aisles. What might be needed now is a large supply of those temperature scanners. Every business will probably need one for several months until the Covid-19 threat is finally declared over.

The other critical point the President made was the need for enhanced Government support of the vulnerable. Covid-19 has accelerated the long-needed reform in this area with the direct payment system, and eventually all subsidies can be dropped with the budget for these added to be payments made to those who need help, rather than being spent on rich and poor alike.

Other areas where the Covid-19 threat has seen substantial progress is the upgrade in health facilities, work still in progress, another reason for continuing the lockdown, but something that will still be there long after the threat has subsided.

So long as Government, business sectors and the people take the lockdown extension positively and act highly responsibly with the widening list of exempted areas, it will be far easier to add more exemptions until we reach the stage where it is simpler to end the lockdown but have a set of tight controls. It is up to everyone to show we can all be trusted to follow public health rules to make that desirable switch possible.

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