“As we gradually open the economy, we need to remember that we are doing this, while taking all necessary precautions to fight the invisible enemy, Covid-19. The easing of lockdown restrictions is not an indication that we have defeated this pandemic, but we are a nation seeking to balance between our economic interests and the protection of life,” said Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Hon Monica Mutsvangwa last week.
This was a bold statement that must be ringing at the back of everyone’s mind. It is important that citizens understand that the war against the spread of Covid-19 has not yet been won. Even if there might be few new infections recorded on some days and no deaths as well, it does not mean that the battle is over. In fact, experts advise that the Coronavirus pandemic will be with us for some time to come, with people advised to adjust to the new normal of doing business and socialising.
With schools opening for final examination classes, there has been more activity with business operating hours adjusted to run from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. Before that, businesses were operating from 8 am to 4:30 pm. In addition, the Government also allowed inter-city travelling with buses now allowed to operate, with the move meant for the ease of travel for tourists after the opening of the tourism industry, and examination school candidates.
Announcing the new measures after a Cabinet meeting last week, Minister Hon Mutsvangwa said the resumption of inter-city bus travel would follow strict World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ministry of Health and Child Care protocol.
“Cabinet further approved the resumption of inter-city travel to facilitate the smooth movement of examination candidates, citizens or visitors. Transporters who wish to ferry passengers should register with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to ensure that they strictly adhere with the Standard Operating Procedures which are compliant to the WHO guidelines and all Covid-19 regulations. In support of this, the Vehicle Inspection Department should also resume its services. Only international travellers are required to provide a 48-hour negative Covid-19 certificate,” Minister Mutsvangwa said.
The change in the business operating hours was welcomed by businesses and their customers who had been complaining that the restriction of operating hours had resulted in crowding outside the business premises with customers waiting for their turn to get served. Industrial businesses in non-essential areas also needed more time to meet orders, they argued.
In addition, workers were complaining that transport problems, especially for those needing to catch two buses to get home, meant it took too long to get home. This, many said, was making them unintentional curfew breakers.
There has been a general lifting of international travel restrictions in recent weeks by the international community with governments, especially those with large tourism industries, looking to revive the sector and generate economic growth.
Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Egypt, South Sudan, Tunisia and Zambia have already resumed international passenger flights with Zimbabwe expected to start international travels at the beginning of October, with domestic flights already authorised to operate.
Nonetheless, the WHO says countries should be guided by data and health systems’ capacity as they plan to reopen borders. Africa regional director Dr Matshidiso Moeti is on record as saying: “Air travel is vital to the economic health of countries. But as we take to the skies again, we cannot let our guard down.”
The WHO has also urged governments to take effective measures, including entry and exit screenings and the practising of hand hygiene, cough etiquette and physical distancing.