Explainer: How far do the relaxed lockdown measures go?

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday announced the extension, by another 14 days, of a national lockdown which was due to expire today.

Formal businesses previously deemed to be non-essential will now be allowed to re-open from tomorrow, but only after screening all their staff for COVID-19 and ensuring that they wear face masks, which are now mandatory for everyone in public or shared spaces. 

Businesses are also required to observe social distancing rules and to provide hand sanitisers for use by employees and customers.

Schools and colleges remain closed, as do churches, gyms, bars and other recreational establishments. Gatherings of more than 50 people are still outlawed and returning residents will still be placed under 21 days mandatory quarantine.

Here, newZWire breaks down the new measures:

Which businesses are allowed to re-open?

After initially allowing only essential businesses – hospitals, pharmacies, laboratories, security services, banks, money transfer services, supermarkets, food retail outlets, fuel stations and some public transport operators – to operate under the first phase of the lockdown, the government subsequently gave temporary exemptions to mines, some manufacturers and the tobacco sector.

The latest regulations allow all other formal commercial and industrial companies previously not considered to be essential, to operate under certain conditions.

Which companies qualify as formal commercial and industrial operations?

The latest regulations say “any business, industry, trade or occupation dealing (whether on a wholesale, retail or other basis) in goods or services for the generation of income or the making of profit.”

Proof of formalisation will be:

  • A shop or other licence from a local authority.
  • A lease agreement on commercial property in terms of the Commercial Premises (Lease Control) Act.
  • Being registered for Value Added Tax purposes.
  • Being registered as an employer for Income Tax purposes.
  • Being a party to a collective bargaining agreement with an industry Employment Council.

Are we all free to move around now?

No. In addition to previously exempted essential workers, only people operating and working for recognised formal businesses will no longer have their movement restricted.

The latest regulations do not repeal Section 4(1)(a)(i) and (ii) of the lockdown decree, which confines people to a 5 kilometre radius from their home, unless they are deemed essential workers or, from Monday, employed in formal businesses.

How are returning workers going to be tested?

The latest regulations require all businesses to test all employees before resuming work.

Because of the quick turn-around and relatively low cost, the recommended test is the rapid screening test.

Employers are required to coordinate with the authorities to organise the tests, which can be done at the workplace.

The sheer volumes of people requiring tests to resume work will certainly overwhelm the limited testing capacity in the country and it is most likely that businesses would have to reopen in phases if they are to comply with the regulations.

On Saturday, health minister Obadiah Moyo said the authorities would further de-centralise testing right down to council clinics, while selected private health institutions and laboratories would be allowed to conduct the testing. Government would also dispatch teams to conduct testing at workplaces, he said.  

What about masks?

Following the growing trend of countries that have made it mandatory to wear face masks in public and after recommendations by senior doctors in the country, the government has now made it compulsory for people to wear face masks in the workplace and in public spaces.

According to the regulations, face masks may be improvised or manufactured. Many shops have already started to bar people without masks.

Are kombis now allowed?

Although the new regulations do not explicitly say so, Mnangagwa’s Friday announcement limited public transport services to the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company (Zupco) and other conventional bus operators. Commuter omnibuses and small taxis, Mnangagwa said, would still be barred even under the relaxed lockdown rules.

Public transport vehicles are required to be disinfected at least twice a day and passengers are also required to practise social distancing while on board.

Passengers should also have their hands sanitised and body temperature checked before boarding.