By Dumisani Nyoni
WITH Covid-19 cases rising in Zimbabwe, businesses are worried that the government might impose another hard lockdown to curb the spread of the scourge, thereby reversing the gains in productivity they had started witnessing in the economy.
The Covid-19 numbers in provinces such as Bulawayo, Harare and Mashonaland West are increasing, prompting debate about another hard lockdown.
However, business has warned the government against another hard lockdown, after the first one took a dramatic toll on the country’s economic activity.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of the third wave of infections, driven by the spread of the Delta and Beta variants of the virus, which were first detected in India and South Africa, respectively.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries vice-president Joseph Gunda told CITE that the rise in cases of Covid-19 was of great concern to them as an industry.
“We are doing the best that we can, encouraging our members to follow World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols and observe them to minimise the risk. Yes, cases are coming and are isolated, but they affect the nation,” he said.
Gunda said they were encouraging their employees to vaccinate against Covid-19.
“It will certainly help reduce the current rising in the numbers. We just need to emphasise that we are at a crisis level in terms of balancing between economic activity and the health of the people which is very critical because you can lose business and recover in future but when you lose life, you have lost, you can’t recover life.”
Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association director Michael Ndiweni said the hard lockdown was not a solution to curb the spread of Covid-19 but vaccination was.
“The hard lockdown is not the solution. In our considered view, we think that people must be vaccinated including traders. So it’s not an issue of coming up with the lockdown because the moment we open without vaccinating people, people will get the virus and get sick,” Ndiweni said.
“So the solution to us as the informal economy workers is to ensure that everyone is vaccinated so that we have herd immunity. By doing so, the severity of the virus is very low so that people can continue working and doing their business.”
In a statement issued after the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) had requested that President Emmerson Mnangagwa imposes a full-scale lockdown to curb the spread of the scourge, the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) said a blanket COVID-19 lockdown will blunt the recovery that business had experienced during the pandemic.
“A total lockdown may compound the problem that we were beginning to see being resolved as business sentiment was gradually becoming positive and bullish. Our considered view is that a blanket national lockdown with tight restrictions on access to workplaces will reverse the gains in productivity that we had started witnessing in the economy,” Emcoz said in a statement.
Emcoz said instead of reducing operating hours from 8 am to 4 pm, as recommended by CZR, retail outlets should have extended trading hours to reduce overcrowding.
“Contrary to sentiment expressed elsewhere, reduced working hours in the retail sector make the retailing outlets more crowded since the same number of shoppers needs to do their shopping during the reduced hours,” Emcoz said.
“This increases risk and, therefore, we would recommend extended trading hours, but under strict observance to COVID-19 protocols. This way, we would as a nation be able to address the health concerns simultaneously with the requirement not to disrupt business.”
Emcoz said any restriction in working hours for manufacturers should take into account shift working arrangements which need not to be unnecessarily disrupted.
It also recommended that private transporters, who show capacity to comply with COVID-19 protocols, be allowed to operate to reduce pressure on the Zupco buses.
The Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) also issued a statement, criticizing the proposal by CZR for a national lockdown.
“The Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe has expressed deep concern over the reported call by the Confederation of Zimbabwean Retailers for a national lockdown. The travel and tourism sector has been in the forefront of efforts to support the national drive to eliminate COVID-19, and continues to support this effort wholeheartedly,” TBCZ president Wengayi Nhau said.
Nhau said the travel and tourism sector was starting to recover from the effects of Covid-19 and it is hoped to regain a momentum to rebuild the sector, most especially to re-employ the thousands of people who have lost jobs and bring a measure of relief to the tens of thousands of people in families and communities affected by these job losses and business closures.
He said a national lockdown had consequences that were massively destructive, as seen by the unprecedented decimation of livelihoods and incomes for families and communities experienced during lockdown irrespective of its intent.
In this regard, he said, they find it irresponsible for CZR to make “this call and we remind that association that its members, who are supermarkets were among the very few operations allowed to operate in a national lockdown and are therefore not qualified to make calls that are prejudicial to other legitimate operations.”
He urged for a balanced programme of action by the authorities and avoidance of knee-jerk reactions that are desperately harmful in other ways.
The government has since tightened the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, immediately banning all movements and reintroducing exemption letters for those employed in critical sectors of the economy as well as service providers as cases and deaths continue to soar.
Addressing journalists in Harare on Tuesday during the weekly post-Cabinet media briefing, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Zimbabwe had an increase of 107% in Covid-19 positive cases over the past week.
As a result, the issue of exemption letters used last year had been reactivated with immediate effect.
As of July 7, 2021, Zimbabwe has recorded 57 963 cases, 41 624 recoveries and 1 939 deaths. Of the total cases, Harare was the worst affected with a total of 15 561 cases, followed by Mashonaland West with 7 593.
Bulawayo came third at 7 414 followed by Manicaland with 5 259 cases. The least hit was Matabeleland North which recorded 2 244 followed by Mashonaland Central at 3 326.