President Emmerson Mnangagwa says mines are to resume operations during an extended lockdown, a plan that would need at least 40 000 mineworkers to be immediately screened and tested for COVID-19.
On Sunday, Mnangagwa announced that Zimbabwe is to remain under lockdown for a further 14 days, although he will allow mines and manufacturers to resume some operations.
“Government is acutely aware of the need to keep the economy running, albeit at subdued levels. With this objective in mind, government has decided to allow the mining sector to resume or scale up operations, even then within parameters set by the WHO regarding social distancing and other public health safety measures,” Mnangagwa said in a live address.
“I have now directed the ministries of Health and Child Care and that of Mines and Mining Development to work closely to ensure the workforce in the mining sector is immediately screened and tested ahead of resumed operations.”
Workers will also be required to stay at their mine houses.
“Further, to the extent possible, I have directed that workers in the mining sector remain within the precincts of their accommodation at the workplaces for the duration of the lockdown.”
The Chamber of Mines, which represents formal miners, says its members employ more than 40 000 people. Mnangagwa’s directive means that mining companies will have to procure and rollout a significant number of rapid diagnostic test kits to screen and test thousands of their workers and external contractors.
Government has been wary of completely shutting down mining, which earned the country US$2.91 billion in exports in 2019, accounted for 55.2% of total exports. In the initial lockdown phase, miners were required to apply for exemption. Miners have also been required to observe social distancing, meaning less workers going in for shifts.
Zimbabwe earned US$410 million from mineral exports in the first two months of 2020, according to Ministry of Mines data. This was up from US$300 million a year earlier, but short of government’s target of US$422 million for the period.
The Chamber of Mines has warned of a 60% dip in mineral output this quarter due to the coronavirus, estimating earnings losses of US$400 million.
Industries will also get a reprieve, although they must observe health safety rules, Mnangagwa said, adding he had held meetings with businesses over recent weeks.
“Over the past few weeks I have held several meetings with different professionals and business interests, in order to mobilise our nation towards this new campaign,” he said.
The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries earlier in April appealed to government to end the lockdown so as to save businesses from further ruin. Mnangagwa says industries, including informal manufactures, will be allowed to operate.
“This reprieve covers our manufacturers in our informal sectors and SMEs as well, who have to use these two weeks to rebuild their capacities and stocks. The responsible ministry is also directed to work with health authorities to ensure there is order and safety in that sector, so critical to livelihoods,” Mnangagwa said.
Why the extension?
Explaining his decision to extend the lockdown, Mnangagwa said current infection rates and local transmission point to what he called “a growing threat to our nation”. He said there was a “grim” projection that confirmed cases will rise.
“Once the cases begin to grow exponentially, the strain on our health facilities will be huge. We should thus do our best now to ensure the pandemic levels off at these low, manageable numbers we currently have recorded,” he said.
On contact tracing, Mnangagwa said: “Experts tell me that an ideal situation is devoting one contact tracer to every four infected cases. Tracing and isolation limits the multiplier effect of the pandemic. We have to ginger up our infection surveillance systems for speedy detection and contact tracing. Again, government is addressing this critical area.”
Government, he said was always aware that the lockdown alone was never the solution, and that it had a huge impact on the economy.
“But we chose the route of abundant caution, whatever costs and discomforts this route brings upon our whole society. Nothing is more important than life saving.”
Last week, the WHO said governments must only lift lockdowns when:
- Disease transmission is under control
- Health systems are able to “detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”
- Hot spot risks have been minimised in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes
- Schools, workplaces and other essential places have established preventive measures
- The risk of importing new cases has been managed
- Communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to live under a new normal
Mnangagwa conceded that Zimbabwe, like most other countries, is yet to meet these conditions, and hence had to extend the lockdown.
“As I have already indicated, worldwide cases of infections continue to gallop, with the WHO counselling against relaxing lockdowns currently adopted by almost all counties of the world. Guided by these realities, and to allow ourselves greater leeway to prepare for worse times which are likely ahead, Government has decided to extend with immediate effect the national lockdown by a further fourteen days,” he said.
Tobacco auctions, due to start this week, will be decentralised while there will be limits on the numbers of farmers allowed at the auction floors.