WHEN the country woke up to news of a second and more complex COVID-19 variant wreaking havoc in neighbouring South Africa in December last year, Zimbabweans debated whether or not a hard lockdown was the way to go.
Days later, the luxury to debate was gone, leaving authorities with no option but to bring another tight lockdown as the deadly COVID-19 variant wormed its way around the country’s ever porous borders.
The pandemic has already claimed more than 1 400 lives nationally, crippling the country’s economy and is a major threat to the government’s objective of achieving a GDP growth of 7,4% this year.
Debate on the mitigation measures and the extent of application hinged around the impact of each scenario on the economy, in particular the productive sector and sadly, the informal sector was to be the most affected.
Activities in the informal sector — which accounts for more than 60% of employment and contributes just over 40% to GDP according to research — were barred on grounds social distancing and observation of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines would be difficult to enforce. The restrictions came with stringent requirements for exemption including the need for tax clearance certificates and government supporting letters.
Good news came on Monday this week when President Emerson Mnangagwa reviewed the lockdown measures, key among his relaxed rules being that the informal sector was now allowed to operate subject to observing WHO guidelines.
This, coming from a point where a blanket ban on informal traders was in place, is a huge win for the sector which should be guarded jealously.
Those in the informal sector should not squander this opportunity to prove they can operate professionally and gainfully contribute to the national economy without endangering themselves or other innocent citizens.
This is especially crucial given that the COVID-19 pandemic is with us for a while and vaccination is clearly taking long with predictions already forecasting the process will spill into 2022.
The informal sector, just like their counterparts in the formal sector, should be responsible in containing the spread of the virus and help by providing personal protective equipment, education and even vaccines to their employees. Those in the informal sector should also decongest their work places, keeping only essential staff and avoiding queues inside their premises.
They should just behave and strictly adhere to WHO guidelines, especially given the lethal nature of this variant. After all, the informal sector constitutes the bulk of employment and its resumption will be of significant benefit to the nation.
If they fail to do so, they should not cry foul if or when decisions don’t go in their favour.
The ball is in their court.