What are the parameters for partial reopening of economy?

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THE United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has painted a morbid picture for Africa with projections that the continent could record between 300 000 and 3,3 million deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic, with infections likely to reach millions in less than two months from now.

NewsDay Comment

That is a very scary scenario which even President Emmerson Mnangagwa alluded to in his address when he extended the lockdown on Sunday.

But in the same breath, he said he had decided to relax some regulations and allow the mining and manufacturing sectors, including the small-to-medium enterprises, to open.

He said some safeguards would be put in place to guarantee that the virus is not spread.

Miners would even be forced to stay at the mines without going back home and they will all be tested.

While the situation calls for a balance on the economy and the rampant spreading of the disease, especially in the absence of the very safeguards being referred to, it takes no rocket scientist to opt for the latter. Halting the spread of the COVID-19 takes precedence.

We could be getting ahead of ourselves because on the ground we have barely managed slightly over 2 800 tests which pales in comparison with countries that have instituted similar measures.

South Africa has opened up the mining sector but has embarked on massive testing countrywide and to date has tested over 120 000. More than 5 000 tests are conducted daily through use of mobile testing for far-flung areas.

Back home we have adopted the same but how are we even going to test all those workers without adequate test kits.

This exercise will require resources financially as well as personnel to track and monitor the employees and ensure their employer is maintaining and respecting the set parameters.

Which brings us to another question, the parameters have not yet been defined, it will obviously take a couple of meetings with all stakeholders and decisions to be made. A baseline survey is also required to find out how many mines or factories will be opened, their needs and also the health personnel to carry out the testing.

While on paper it is achievable, we have less than 14 days to do all this ground work and implement it meaningfully — is that practicable?

Unless if behind the scenes there was already some work being done, otherwise it’s just a blueprint that was pleasant to hear and now it takes its place among many other such and will gather dust.

We are faced with the fight for our lives and it’s sad that careful considerations are not being made. It appears like a rushed decision with no concrete strategies to support it.

Not wanting to sound like prophets of doom, we shall most likely see a surge in number of infections coupled with the returnees who are making their way home from hotspot zones. Already many are reportedly running away from their places of mandatory quarantine.

Add this scenario to the mix and we have ourselves one huge headache which we may not recover from.
The small gains that are anticipated from relaxing the restrictions will be eroded by serious strain on the healthcare system which is already fatigued and buckling under the weight of the economic malaise.

We implore the government to be serious with people’s lives. There is need for wider consultations and rapid measures to put in place safeguards that actually work, otherwise it’s leading the poor workers to the slaughter pen.