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Anxiety grips Zim

… as lockdown enters final stage

TINASHE MAKICHI

Anxiety has gripped Zimbabwe as the 21-day lockdown comes to an end on Sunday amid a rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus and government’s plans to intensify testing.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a 21-day lockdown effective March 30 to help contain the spread of the virus.

To date, 23 confirmed cases have been recorded inclusive of three deaths.

There is uncertainty on the next course of action as citizens in the past two weeks managed to abide by the lockdown rules despite Zimbabwe being a country with an unemployment rate of around 90%.

The fact that numbers keep increasing on the back of improved effective testing, the situation is, however, pointing to another lockdown extension.

As a mitigating measure, the government has since decentralised laboratory testing for coronavirus specimens while rapid test kits are being distributed across the country.

The latest move by the government has seen more Covid-19 cases being discovered across the country coupled with more effective contact tracing.

Also the latest escalation of controls on checkpoints by security forces further points to a possible extension of the lockdown as the government puts in place stern measures to control movement of traffic and people.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police has since started impounding vehicles and arresting drivers who flout lockdown while the Zimbabwe National Army members are now in full force to enforce the lockdown.

The latest anxiety across the country comes at a time when other countries in Southern Africa have extended their lockdown while some like Malawi recently introduced the measures to fight Covid-19 which originated from China’s Hubei Province.

Economic analyst Persistence Gwanyanya told Business Times that a lockdown extension was necessary but there was a need to create a balance between the economy, industrial production and health.

“Going forward I don’t envisage a situation of people going to work when the whole world is under lockdown, it will not work. But I would expect the government to re-visit the lockdown model,” Gwanyanya said.

South Africa has since extended its lockdown by two weeks while Botswana declared a state of emergency of six months. Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi have also declared various lockdown measures.

The extension of the lockdown by South Africa and East Africa’s Uganda (further 21 days) will likely inform an extension of the lockdown on the part of Zimbabwe considering the continued rising of confirmed cases.

An extension also spells doom for the informal sector which has for the past decade acted as the pulse of Zimbabwe’s economy.

The situation has been further exacerbated by government’s failure to avail a cushioning package for a population that is now crying for a bailout.

A study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2018 showed that Zimbabwe has the second largest informal sector in the world.

Only the South America’s Bolivia has a larger informal market. The working paper titled, ‘Shadow Economies around the World: What Did We Learn over the Last 20 Years?’ says more than 60% of the Zimbabwean economy is informal, second only to Bolivia’s 62.3%.

This therefore means an extension of the lockdown will have ripple effects to the informal sector which has kept the Zimbabwean economy ticking on the back of an impending drought in 2020.

In as much the control for Covid-19 remains critical, industry is likely going to suffer and is already negotiating for a bailout package from government which also has its own fiscal struggles.

Economic analyst Phineas Kadenge said a lockdown extension is necessary to preserve lives calling for the lifting of some restrictions.

“Ordinarily our economy cannot afford an extension but based on the current circumstances, an extension is necessary but with relaxed restrictions. Rather an economy like Zimbabwe should enforce social distancing and effective testing,” Kadenge said.

The pandemic has already brought massive economic and social effects to the industry and ordinary citizens in particular. Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president, Henry Ruzvidzo recently said industry is looking at various ways to offer relief to industry as the pandemic’s ravaging effects takes toll.

“Discussions are still ongoing and we have since been tasked to do a survey on the impact of Covid-19 on the industry and come up with the extent of losses by the industry. “The companies are also required to come up with estimate figures on the losses that they have accumulated so far.

The survey will then be submitted to government to come up with strategies forward to assist industry,” Ruzvidzo said.

The announced 21-days lockdown and a possible extension will likely result in a lot of companies having cash flow gridlocks and at times fail to honour their tax obligations to Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions says the government can afford a Covid-19 stimulus package if there is genuine re-prioritisation of expenditure to create fiscal space to deal with the impact of the pandemic. According to a report seen by Business Times, the workers’ representative body said the government’s efforts should be complemented by assistance from development partners, including crowdfunding.

According to the report, the economic impact of Covid-19 will largely be felt through mechanisms such as trade disruptions, travel bans and closure of borders, low remittances, disruptions in agriculture, manufacturing and other sectors, and exports, depressed foreign direct investment, disruptions in supply chains and the re-channelling of resources initially meant for humanitarian assistance towards in-country Covid-19 support systems, among donor countries.

These disruptions have caused massive fiscal constraints on the Zimbabwean economy.

The report notes that the lockdown for Zimbabwe has also resulted in disruption of economic activity at a time when the economy is already experiencing a significant slowdown.

ZCTU said the lockdown will negatively affect the rural economy and livelihoods, increasing vulnerability to poverty where it will inevitably disrupt the ruralurban agriculture supply chain.

“The rural communities play a critical role in the production and supply of agriculture commodities, particularly fresh vegetables to surrounding major cities’ and towns’ vegetable markets,” it said.

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