Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
PRESIDENT Mnangagwa has extended the Covid-19-induced lockdown by a further 14 days and announced an $18 billion Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package to scale up production in all sectors of the economy.
Addressing the nation yesterday, President Mnangagwa said the partial lockdown, which has been downgraded to Level Two, entails that all people must wear face masks of any types, even home-made cloth ones, in all public spaces and when they are outside of their homes.
All workers are set to be screened to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The President said schools, universities and colleges will remain closed and an announcement on their reopening will be made at an appropriate time after consultations.
He also announced an income tax break for healthcare workers and health care institutions for the next six months and this is with immediate effect.
Public buses will be the only mode of public transport while kombis and smaller taxis are still not permitted to operate. Bus operators must also ensure that vehicles are disinfected twice daily with all commuters now required to Wear masks and have their temperatures checked and hands sanitised before boarding buses.
Churches, gyms, bottle stores, bars, beerhalls and other leisure and recreational facilities, and the informal sector remain closed except the agriculture and food supply chains (markets).
Gatherings of more than 50 people also remain banned.
“Noticing that there is now a gradual increase of infections, the lockdown will continue for the next 14 days, however, relaxed to Level Two. This entails the following adjustments all people must wear masks of any type, including home made ones, outside their homes. The reopening of industry and commerce, provided that companies must ensure mandatory rapid diagnostic testing of all employees, social distancing in the workplace, sanitisation and all employees wear masks. Operating hours shall be from 8AM to 3PM,” he said.
President Mnangagwa said the continued partial lockdown is critical to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
He said Government has seen it fit to equally mitigate the debilitating effects of Covid-19 on the economy by putting in place an $18 billion Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package in response to Covid-19.
The package is expected to increase economic productivity and support job retention and creation.
“So far, our response to this pandemic has seen us putting in place an $18 billion Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package, which amounts to 9 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or 28,6 percent of the 2020 National Budget.
“The package is proportionate to the disruption the virus has caused in our national economy,” said President Mnangagwa.
The package will also be used to address the needs of small-scale industries, improve health facilities, reduce poverty and hardships and assist vulnerable groups in various communities.
President Mnangagwa said the Economic Rescue and Stimulus Package is based on an aspiration to meet the diverse requirements of the national economy that include capacitating the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as well as the informal sector.
“These institutions have borne the worst brunt of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. An amount of $500 million of the package has been set aside for the MSMEs to assist this sector. The lack of income for the small companies and individuals has resulted in an increased number of vulnerable households in the country,” he said.
President Mnangagwa said the situation has been further worsened by the ongoing drought which has led to huge food deficits, which require imports to bridge the gap.
Government has also introduced a food grant programme to the tune of $2,4 billion for the rest of 2020 to protect the vulnerable members of society.
Additional resources will be allocated for the provision of social welfare services including the needs of pensioners.
Another $500 million will be set aside for the tourism and hospitality industry, which was hardest hit by the lockdown.
In order to incentivise investment in the mining sector, Government has availed a $1 billion credit support facility for large-and small-scale miners as well as speeding up the implementation of a computerised Mining Cadastral System.
President Mnangagwa said to ensure employment levels are maintained or even increased, $3 billion will be for the manufacturing sector to assist with funding to cover capital and operational expenses.
He said $6,1 billion shall be channelled towards stimulating agricultural production to boost food production and security.
Government is enhancing funding to the health sector by an additional $1 billion from the facility to upscale up the country’s hospitals and other health care facilities.
“The funds will also be used to procure the much needed Covid-19 testing kits, PPEs for the medical personnel and for the purchase of drugs,” said President Mnangagwa.
The President also pledged to assist players in the creative cultural industry, which has been affected by the lockdown, to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19.
“I have therefore instructed the Minister of Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation, Dr Kirsty Coventry, to make a proposal to Government on how best this sector can be helped to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Turning to the education sector, President Mnangagwa said the Ministries of Primary and Secondary Education and Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development has been in constant consultations with all key stakeholders on how to ensure the safe re-opening of schools, colleges and universities.
He, however, said the announcement of the reopening dates will be made at the appropriate time and for now, schools remain closed.
He said a number of health conditions ought to be met first to guarantee the safety of pupils, students, teachers and other workers in the education systems.
“To this end, the two Ministries of Education are working closely with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development with regards to the necessary steps towards the reopening process,” said President Mnangagwa.
He said the reopening strategy will prioritise students who are taking their final examinations this year.
“Furthermore, the two ministries are working with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and our co-operating partners to put in place online and distance learning facilities to ensure that the students continue having access to learning materials,” said President Mnangagwa.
The President said while most countries will continue to benefit from financing packages from multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and (African Development Bank (AfDB), Zimbabwe will not benefit.
“However, we remain grateful for the bilateral support we continue to receive from countries such as the People’s Republic of China, United Kingdom, India, the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates, and the African Union and European Union, among others. We equally commend the business community, humanitarian organisations and NGOs who are assisting the country at this time of great need,” he said.
President Mnangagwa said the partial relaxing to Level Two is designed to restart certain sectors of the economy while recognising the compelling need to maintain the lockdown.
“Overall, we must remain cautious for as long as the infection curve has not converged with our health delivery readiness curve. To this end, new laboratories have been identified to increase and decentralise testing,” he said.
“We envisage that this will further increase the numbers of people tested so as to inform transmission patterns and response strategies.”
The President said Zimbabwe’s strategy and response to the pandemic has taken into account the country’s realities which include the illegal sanctions and associated vulnerabilities and sensitivities, a large informal economy which will impact on the nature, scope and anticipated impact the interventions.
Other realities include a notable diaspora population from the red zones, many of whom are opting to return home thereby threatening to constitute a large number of imported cases in the country.
President Mnangagwa also noted that the economy, which is highly import dependent, has exposed the citizens to the shocks of disruptions in the external supply chain as source countries also imposed lockdowns resulting in international freight systems being crippled. – @mashnets.