COLUMN | Keeping up with Zimbabwe’s shifting lockdown rules is getting harder. Time to clean them up

Common Law With Mike Murenzvi

“The safety of the people shall be the highest law”

― Marcus Tillius Cicero

 

If you’re like me, you’ll by now have gotten a bit lost on what’s permissible and what’s not in the current lockdown laws. If it wasn’t for the President’s address preceding most amendments, I’m sure we would be hopelessly lost.

Since the first lockdown in March, there have since been fifteen amendments to it to date. These amendments have been both big and small, from introducing phased relaxation of the lockdown to penalties for carrying passengers for a fee.

The current version of Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020, “Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order, 2020” (as amended 15 times) reads like a twisted plot. One has to constantly refer to different sections of the document to establish what current conditions apply to them.

What happened?

The national lockdown was a product of government’s need to protect the citizens and residents of Zimbabwe during the COVID-19 pandemic while also buying time to prepare health facilities for a deluge of critically ill patients when the wave would finally hit.

At the time of introduction, the country had recorded one death that, on its own, showed the deplorable state of preparedness for the pandemic.

Between what sections of the economy can open, when, and under what conditions, as well as sports and recreational activities, the SI has become too busy and convoluted. It speaks of levels, but only Level 2 is somewhat defined.

One of the latest amendments introduces a curfew while maintaining certain freedoms of movement during the day. It has fast become one hot mess of confusion.

A possible clean up?

In my opinion, the lockdown laws need overhaul and cleaning up into several structured SIs, based on specific sets of conditions. The Ministry of Health and government as a whole needs to sit down and properly establish guidelines for each “level” to operate fully and freely without need for much amendment.

This would look something like this:

Public Health Lockdown Level A: Full scale lockdown with essential services and industries operational.

Public Health Lockdown Level B: Expanded lockdown with greater services and industries operational.

Public Health Lockdown Level C: Limited lockdown with most services and industries operational.

Public Health Lockdown Level D: Minimal lockdown with all services and industries operational.

The conditions set in each level can be easily applied to specific areas depending on the situation prevailing on the ground there, as opposed to the current national approach. The country is not affected by COVID-19 equally and therefore the one size fits all program

The current method of adding conditions to the regulations will result in conflicting clauses which will likely result in the courts being called in to make head or tail of what is and what isn’t applicable.

Key features of good laws include:

  1. Fair balance between individual rights and community good
  2. Equal application to all
  3. Clarity
  4. Enforceability
  5. Consistency and stability.

I’ll leave you to be the judge of whether the current lockdown regulations adequately address these features.

Keep it simple

Zimbabwe has had significant time to plan a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike South Africa, and other nations, our case load is still very low and even lower still in terms of hospital admissions. There is need for the collective knowledge and experience of others to be put into a cohesive and comprehensive response plan for the effective management of the country.

There is no need to be overcomplicated. Simplicity is key in ensuring that everyone is well-informed and understands their obligations limits to best protect themselves as well as those around them.

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal opinions and should in no way be interpreted to represent the views of any organisations that he is associated or connected with. Feedback is greatly encouraged in the comments section below

 

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