Government has suspended face-to-face meetings in the public service to ensure the safety of its employees and trimmed its workforce to 30 percent as the fight against Covid-19 intensifies.
This comes as 34 people died yesterday, while 1 365 cases were recorded. Harare recorded 777 of the new cases.
This was announced by the Acting Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Dr Jenfan Muswere during an update on the Level Four lockdown that began yesterday.
The lockdown was announced by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the Minister of Health and Child Care on Saturday with Acting President Kembo Mohadi giving policy direction on the implementation of the lockdown on Sunday.
Dr Muswere said the Public Service Commission (PSC) had streamlined to 30 percent, with the essential service workforce expected to be physically at work across all ministries and Government departments.
“Face-to-face meetings have been suspended. Meanwhile, strict Covid-19 protocols on PSC buses will be enforced. Knock-off time for Government employees shall be 3pm,” he said.
The minister reiterated that only essential services would be allowed to operate during the lockdown as stipulated by law, including closing at 3pm.
He said other commercial operations and services specified in Part 5 of the lockdown order, that is to say all formal businesses and registered informal traders, had been suspended as from yesterday.
“Regarding law and order, our security forces are on high alert and vigilant to arrest offenders.
“In particular, the Task Force noted the suspension of Matapi police officers for negligently allowing a super spreader event to proceed under their watch as well as the arrest of organisers of the big, illegal event that took place in Mbare on New Year’s Eve,” Dr Muswere said.
In an earlier interview, PSC Secretary Ambassador Jonathan Wutawunashe said the trimming of the workforce was aimed at minimising the risk of infection within the public service.
“We have directed that only 30 percent of the public service be at their respective workplaces as a way of decongesting the workplaces.
“Others will work from home and some on call and might be told to report for duty if those at work are overwhelmed or need to rest,” said Ambassador Jonathan Wutawunashe.
Those coming to work would be given safety nets to fall back on in the event they contracted or succumbed to Covid-19 complications.
Ambassador Wutawunashe said some benefits set out last year still stood, like giving those who fell sick, up to up to six months of sick leave on full-pay as well as paying all medical bills for front-line health staff.
Generally, civil servants are entitled to 90 days’ sick-leave on full salary if they are incapacitated by ill-health.
Families of civil servants who succumbed to Covid-19, if infected in the line of duty, wouldl be looked after, and the Government was still committed to paying a full year’s salary to families along with the normal benefits payable to the family of a deceased.
Ambassador Wutawunashe said such commitments were a sign of the Government’s care for its workers.
The commencement of the 2021 primary and secondary schools’ classes, Dr Muswere emphasised, had been deferred till further notice to allow for monitoring of the Covid-19 pattern.
“Further to this, the nation is advised that teachers, including invigilators as well as pupils sitting for exams, will be given free passage to their respective schools, subject to them having a clearance letter from the Ministry authorities.
“For Higher and Tertiary Education students, classes will continue online while final exam classes will be allowed free passage to sit for their examinations,” he added.
He said media practitioners were considered an essential service and would continue to practice using the 2020 accreditation cards while the Zimbabwe Media Commission puts in place modalities for the issuance of this year’s accreditation cards.
He added that support staff for the Media Industry at large would have exemption letters issued through the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services on request from their media houses.
“Concerning information and risk communication, the sub-committee will continue to hold awareness campaigns in line with Covid-19 regulations and disseminate Covid-19 messages through the media focusing on behaviour change.
“Sub-national structures have already begun engaging key stakeholders such as traditional, political and religious leaders to ensure that the message cascades down to the grassroots,” he said.
Dr Muswere said land borders remained closed and would only be permissible for citizens and returning residents upon production of valid Covid-19 free certificates issued within 48 hours.
He added that the plight of Zimbabwean citizens who had returned for the festive season from neighbouring countries, especially from South Africa but wanted to return to their bases, would be looked at.
He reiterated the need to observe the lockdown guidelines.
“We all have a collective responsibility to ensure our personal safety, safety of our loved ones and that of the nation at large. We can stop Covid-19, let us all play our part. Social and physical distancing, staying at home, masking up and personal hygiene including sanitising and frequently washing ours hands with soap and running water will do the trick,” he said.
Meanwhile, central Harare had fewer people compared to the previous days and most businesses closed operations.
Police mounted checkpoints on major roads leading into town and at most of them, it took up to an hour to pass, with security officers only permitting essential service providers while others were being turned back home.
However, it was almost business as usual in some residential areas, as people could be seen wandering along streets.
At Warren Park 1 shops, large numbers of people could be seen roaming around while some imbibers were enjoying their beer.
There were huge numbers of people at Mbudzi Roundabout on the Harare-Masvingo highway, raising fears that the efforts to reduce transmissions could be scuppered.
Horticultural markets were open yesterday although in some areas, fewer consumers were recorded.
Mbare Musika and the agri-produce market at the Exhibition Park, commonly known as the Harare Show Grounds, were open, while business was low in areas such as Gokwe, Bulawayo and Karoi.
Mutare market did not open as there was uncertainty over how the farmers had to conduct business.
“Some consumers were also not able to come to the market due to the stringent measures and this also affected demand. At Mbare Musika, the price of tomatoes dropped due to low demand. The lockdown is a necessary measure although it will impact on our perishable produce.
“For instance, some farmers in areas such Buhera would bring their produce to Harare using public transport and now they will not be able to come and market their crops,” said one farmer who only identified himself as Mr Dhewa.
He said farmers were happy that the Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Ministry had made it easier for farmers to access exemption letters.
In Masvingo, there was a marked decrease in the number of people in the city centre and heavy police presence.
There was also general compliance with the requirement to put on face masks although implementation of social distancing remained a big challenge.
Masvingo provincial Covid-19 taskforce spokesperson Mr Rodgers Irimai expressed concern over the high number of people using undesignated points saying: “Most ordinary shops and businesses have closed after heeding the lockdown regulations but we have problems with the high number of people in the CBD which according to investigations is due to use of undesignated entry points into the city to evade police checkpoints.”
In Kariba, people largely heeded of Government’s directive to stay home while Zupco buses transported the few people going to work.
Shops closed promptly at 3pm in line gazetted Covid-19 regulations while police officers maintained patrols to ensure compliance.
In Beitbridge, most non-essential shops were closed shops with a few people loitering in the CBD.
In Marondera town, activity was also low as people heeded the call to stay home.
“We need to stay indoors as was directed by the Government. I failed to buy all basic goods yesterday that is why I am in town. It is safe to stay indoors and everyone should do the same,” said Mr Farai Mabika.