HARARE – Zimbabwe’s coronavirus-induced partial lockdown was due to begin on Monday after tight restrictions imposed on March 30 were eased.
Most businesses are expected to open under supervision while informal markets – where more than 80 percent of Zimbabweans earn their living – will remain shut.
On Sunday, the government announced that businesses which wish to open will be obligated to ensure their employees are tested for coronavirus – imposing a new burden on already struggling businesses to pay for test kits.
In other measures, all Zimbabweans leaving their homes must wear masks or risk arrest, the government announced.
In a statement, ministry of health secretary Agnes Mahomva said: “As announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the re-opening of industry and commerce during the lockdown extension effective May 4, 2020, is premised on the mandatory testing of employers and employees.”
Mahomva said designated health institutions that have been carrying out routine screening and medical examinations will now also conduct coronavirus rapid testing.
“To expedite the testing process, companies are encouraged to procure the Covid-19 rapid test kits for themselves, guided by the ministry in terms of test kits specifications,” Mahomva said.
Energy Mutodi, the deputy information minister, said the wearing of masks was now a legal requirement after the publication of new regulations on Saturday.
“With effect from Monday, May 4, police will arrest anyone seen without putting on a mask in the central business district, entering shops or any public places,” Mutodi warned.
Mnangagwa last week extended a nationwide lockdown to fight the new coronavirus by two more weeks.
Announcing the extension, Mnangagwa said “all people must wear masks of any type including home-made ones outside their homes.”
Zimbabwe first announced a three-week lockdown at the end of March and then extended that by 14 days, prior to the latest extension. The lockdown has shuttered an economy struggling with acute shortages of foreign currency, food, electricity and hospitals short on medicines.
Mnangagwa said public gatherings of more than 50 people and the use of kombis remain suspended, while schools will remain closed.
He said a Z$18 billion stimulus package (US$720 million), which is just more than a quarter of this year’s national budget, would benefit smaller businesses which are hardest hit by the lockdown.
Mnangagwa did not say how the package would be funded.
“The package is proportionate to the disruption the virus has caused to the national economy,” he said in a televised speech.
Health workers would not be taxed for the next six months to boost their earnings, the president said.
Zimbabwe has recorded 34 cases of the new coronavirus and four deaths so far. Five people have recovered.