The Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lock-down), Order was consolidated and republished on the 20th August, and we explained its effect in our Bill Watch 57/2020 [link]. Since then the new Order has been amended three times, by SI 208/2020 [link], SI 216/2020 [link] and SI 217 of 2020 [link]. A consolidated version of the new Order, incorporating all these amendments, can be accessed on the Veritas website [link].
In this Bill Watch we shall outline the main effects of the amendments to the Order.
2021 Census Facilitated
Section 2 of the Order has been amended to include the work of Zimstat (the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency) as an essential service. Zimstat is responsible for conducting censuses, so the amendment will allow preparations for next year’s census to proceed without being unduly hampered by the Covid-19 lock-down. The census is an important precursor to a delimitation of constituencies before the 2023 general election.
Public transport drivers will have to obtain Covid-19-free certificates once a month, the certificates being issued on the basis of polymerase chain-reaction tests (section 4(3)(d) of the Order). Passengers on domestic and international flights will have to produce similar PCR Covid-19-free certificates before being allowed to board aircraft (section 7(2)).
Travel Restrictions Eased
All airports and aerodromes are now open for domestic passenger and cargo flights (section 7(1)(e) of the Order). International flights will be allowed from the 1st October (section 7(2)).
As noted above, before being allowed to board an aircraft for a domestic or international flight, a passenger will have to produce a PCR Covid-19-free certificate.
Citizens and residents who arrive in Zimbabwe, whether they have travelled by air, road or rail, will be allowed to self-quarantine at home if they produce a recent Covid-19-free certificate (i.e. one issued within the previous 48 hours) and do not exhibit symptoms of Covid-19. If they cannot produce such a certificate but do not exhibit symptoms they must be detained in a holding facility until they can be tested for Covid-19; if they test negative they will then be allowed to self-quarantine at home. If however a citizen or returning resident tests positive, they must be detained in a place of isolation for 14 days.
It should be noted that:
- There is no indication of how long people are supposed to self-isolate. Presumably 14 days, because that is the period for which people can be detained in a place of isolation, but it should have been stated clearly in the Order.
- The terms “holding facility” and “place of isolation” are not defined. In SI 77 of 2020, the regulations under which the Order was made, the Minister of Health is empowered to identify sites where people can be isolated or quarantined, but he must specify the sites in the Gazette ‒ and he has not specified any so far.
Extended Business Hours
Businesses in the formal and informal sectors whose hours were restricted under the Order are now allowed to open between 6.30 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. on all business days (sections 17(6), 19(1) and 25(5)(a) of the Order). Whether Sundays count as business days is not stated.
This does not, however, apply to liquor licensees [for which, see below].
Hotels, Restaurants and Tourist Facilities
Broadly the effect of the amendments is that hotels, restaurants and tourist facilities can re-open so long as staff and customers or clients observe necessary precautions to avoid spreading Covid-19. More specifically:
- They are declared essential services by section 19A of the Order, so they are not subject to ordinary lock-down restrictions. The declaration extends to “commercial waterborne vessels”, a term which covers fishing rigs and boats that carry passengers for profit.
- Facilities in national parks are open to foreign and domestic tourists and visitors (section 19B(2)(b) of the Order).
- Restaurants, including restaurants in tourist facilities and those attached to hotels, can serve liquor to customers with meals (section 19B(2)(a) of the Order).
- Customers in restaurants must wear face masks when not eating or drinking, and must sanitise their hands on entry and on leaving (section 19B(4)).
Liquor Sales Permitted
Most liquor licensees (i.e. businesses allowed to sell alcohol under the Liquor Act) can resume sales, but ‒ apart from hotels ‒ they can only do so between 8 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. (section 19C of the Order).
These hours apply to supermarkets and food stores which are allowed to sell alcohol under bottle liquor licences: their ordinary hours of business are 6 30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. but their sales of alcohol must now be conducted between the more restrictive hours of 8 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.
Bars, beer-halls, casinos and nightclubs are not allowed to sell liquor at all, and so effectively remain closed.
Special Lane for Public Transport Vehicles
Under section 26(2) of the Order, police and security service personnel manning roadblocks must wherever possible keep a separate lane open to allow public transport vehicles ‒ omnibuses and combis ‒ to pass through quickly. Whether this will ease congestion in urban areas remains to be seen.
Inter-city Passenger Services
There have been press reports that the Cabinet has decided to lift the ban on intercity passenger transport services, but so far the Lock-down Order has not been amended to give effect to this decision. Intercity passenger transport services therefore remain prohibited.
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