The Grinch: Ahead of holidays, Zimbabwe imposes tough travel measures over variant fear

Zimbabwe will require travelers to test for COVID-19 on arrival and go into mandatory quarantine, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said, announcing a set of tough measures that will disrupt travel into the country ahead of holidays.

Here is a summary of the measures:

  • All returning residents and visitors must undergo PCR testing on arrival. They will be quarantined, at own cost, for days recommended by WHO, even if they present a negative PCR test results from elsewhere
  • Curfew will run from 9PM-6AM
  • Shops will open from 7AM-7PM
  • Covid-19 related funerals will continue to be supervised by health officials
  • No liquor will be consumed at bottle stores, while bars can only admit vaccinated clients
  • Restaurants must close at 7PM

Government, Mnangagwa said, will review these measures after 14 days.

There was no immediate clarity from government on the duration of its proposed quarantine.

The WHO recommends quarantine of 14 days, but only for COVID-19 contacts. It has no recommendation on quarantine related to travel, and advises that travelers should not be treated as contacts, unless they meet the definition of an actual contact.

A WHO guide issued on Tuesday, in fact, says travel restrictions “should be based on risk assessments, consider local circumstances, and avoid placing the financial burden on international travelers”.

Before the latest measures, only those that showed symptoms of COVID-19 on arrival in Zimbabwe, and tested at ports of entry, were required to pay for a US$60 COVID-19 test.

Mnangagwa said the measures were needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 after the discovery of a new variant, omicron. He said while Zimbabwe had recorded some progress in dealing with the pandemic, that progress was now at risk due to complacency.

“In all likelihood, this worrisome complacency is likely to get worse as the festive season approaches. Our nation thus faces the grim risk of a fourth wave which must be avoided at all cost,” he said.

The new variant, he said, presents a new threat.

“We face a new, added risk, which compounds the burden we already face and shoulder from known variants we have been grappling with since the outbreak of the pandemic.”

Coming just at the start of the holiday season, the new measures on travelers are likely to draw public outrage as they will disrupt the travel plans of returning residents. Zimbabwe’s own measures also add more misery for travelers after the bans already imposed on the region by many countries over the past week.

Earlier on Tuesday, in a Cabinet briefing, the government said it would ignore the calls of the tourism players to open up travel and save their industry from ruin.

“Cabinet also resolved to put on hold requests from the tourism industry to further open up travel in order to allow for the monitoring of the situation of the new variant and its impact during the next two weeks,” Cabinet said.