Robin Muchetu and Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday News Reporters
THE Government is still deliberating on whether to re-open its land borders especially Beitbridge Border Post to international travellers following an announcement by South Africa that it will re-open its ports of entry on 1 October.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa last week announced that his country will open its borders from 1 October for international travel as the neighbouring country moves to the lowest level of its five-step coronavirus lockdown-Level 1.
The neighbouring country said it will open three of its airports and one land border post– Beitbridge– which were already operational during the lockdown. The border was only operational to allow cargo movement and returning citizens from both countries. Before lockdown, border authorities estimated that an average of 25 000 travellers and 4 000 light cars were cleared to pass the through the border daily.
Following the announcement by South Africa, there was a general assumption among locals that Zimbabwe would follow suit. However, Minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage Cde Kazembe Kazembe told Sunday News yesterday that the announcement by South Africa did not mean Zimbabwe will follow suit without prior consultations.
“I cannot say yes or no-a definite answer, but it (opening of Beitbridge border) is an issue that is under consideration, the National Taskforce on Covid-19 has to sit and deliberate, then we do consultations with the President then we will have a position soon. There is that possibility that we will re-open but it is under discussion,” he said.
Although Zimbabwe is still to announce its official position on the border, cross border traders said they were itching to get back to business and were working to ensure that they have requisite papers. President Ramaphosa announced that travellers to his country would need to present a negative Covid-19 test result not older than 72 hours from time of departure or face a mandatory quarantine at their own cost upon arrival in South Africa. The cost to do the polymerise chain reaction (PCR) test in Zimbabwe starts from US$60 at private laboratories.
“The cost does not matter. It is now like we are back to life because for the past few months we have felt like we have died. People were not making any money and our members were really struggling. So many could not even afford to buy food or anything else that they might need in their households. While we acknowledge that the tests are expensive, we can’t get away from the fact that it needs to be done. If you ask any vendor right now, they will tell you that they would prefer to pay for that test rather than sit at home and do nothing which has been the case in recent months,” president of the Cross-Border Traders Association Mr Killer Zivhu told Sunday News yesterday.
Mr Zivhu said after all tests are done to safeguard the health of people including vendors.
“There are two countries that as vendors we are heavily reliant on and that is China and South Africa. If we are being blocked from those two countries then we have a real problem on our hands. So, I’m glad that at least one of those countries is now opening up its borders to us.”
Although the country has been opening up the economy, experts warned that it has not yet crossed the line in the fight against Covid-19.
Chief Coordinator National Response to Covid-19 Pandemic Dr Agnes Mahomva said while numbers of new cases and deaths were going down, the county still needed to be vigilant. On Friday, 14 new cases were recorded and there were no deaths from Covid-19 in seven days.
“The numbers seem to be going down, that is true, but when there is a pandemic like this, one day numbers go up and another day they go down in a jigsaw kind of fashion. When we see this we have to be very cautious. As long as we make new cases which we do in our case, they might be fewer yes, but as long as you are dealing with a very infectious disease like Covid-19 then the chances of it rapidly going up are still there,” she said.
Dr Mahomva said it was too early to celebrate reduction in new cases in the country. “We are not very interested in celebrating the reduced numbers of infections because new cases are still there every day. We must keep reminding ourselves of what happened in Europe. When they saw their numbers going down, they celebrated and they started relaxing, as we are speaking, their numbers are shooting up again and we don’t want to be in that position,” she said.
Dr Mahomva said measures set to prevent the spread of the virus still remain effective and must continue to be respected despite the relaxation of some measures put earlier.
“Things remain the same, people need to remain cautious, we are getting into a new normal; in other words we introduced all these new measures but people should not drop them even if we have zero new infections, people should still continue social distancing, washing their hands, not getting into crowds when looking for transport and keeping masks on properly covering the mouth and nose. Don’t wear it as a fashion statement, it is so critical as it saves lives,” she said. On the possible opening of borders, Dr Mahomva said the there was still a risk of infection and all necessary measures must be implemented.
Yesterday, the country recorded 25 new cases and one death from Bulawayo. The death came after seven days with no one lost to Covid-19. There were 31 new recoveries. Cumulatively, the country has recorded 7672 cases, 5914 recoveries and 225 deaths, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health.