COVID-19 test poser for firms

A Wilkins Hospital worker sprays Annie with protective liquid after 'attending' a patient infected with Ebola virus.

BUSINESS and government are on a collision course over the mandatory coronavirus tests for all employees who returned to work yesterday, which industry says are expensive and not feasible.


Government through Statutory Instrument 99 of 2020 has since said those that do not comply with the testing regulations, including social distancing and wearing of face masks during the 14-day extended lockdown, would face a possible one year jail term.

Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) president Israel Murefu, said there was no common position on the mandatory testing imposed on employers by government on two fronts — cost and practicability.

“If you look at capacity, the national response has managed in more than 30 days to do just 9 000 tests, yet government expects in just 14 days for companies to have tested over a million workers, it’s just not practical or feasible,” he said.

Murefu said they could also not meet the cost of the tests with private laboratories, particularly given that most companies have not been operating for five weeks.

“The cheapest quotation for tests is US$25 and the most expensive is US$100 (per person). Now for most companies that have not been operating, there would be no budget for this. While the idea is noble and business is sympathetic and would want to ensure employees and their families are safe, the cost is just beyond reach, unless government proposes to include the cost of testing in the $18 billion stimulus package they are proposing,” Murefu said.

The Health ministry in a May 3 statement released “guidelines for the operationalisation on mandatory employee testing of COVID 19 before re-opening of business,” which called on companies to procure testing kits, essentially unloading the burden of testing to companies.

“To expedite the testing process, companies are encouraged to procure the COVID-19 rapid test kits for themselves, guided by MHOCC in terms of test kits specifications. Employers must arrange with the designated testing facilities (public or private) for their employees to be tested at an agreed time at the facilities or at the work place,” the guidelines read.

Government released the SI99 of 2020 at the weekend, which says those that do not comply with the regulations would face a possible one-year jail term.

“Any person who fails to comply with an order of an enforcement officer given under this section, or who hinders or obstructs an enforcement officer from having the access referred to in subsection (6), shall be guilty of an offence and liable to fine not exceeding level twelve or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or both such fine and such imprisonment.”

It is now mandatory for everyone to wear face masks, practise social distancing and undergo mandatory testing before going to work.

“Every individual who by this order is permitted to leave his or her home or to be in any public space must wear a face mask (whether improvised or manufactured, and whether or not of a standard specified in the Public Health (Standards for Personal Protective Apparel, Materials and Equipment) Regulations, 2020, published in Statutory Instrument 92, of 2020),” reads the SI in part.

In what appears to be confusion in government, the regulation on the face masks came less than a month after the Health ministry on March 31 advised the public that face masks were not for persons without symptoms.

“The ministry would like to advise that, according to (World Health Organisation) WHO, the wearing of masks in public areas by persons without symptoms is not recommended.

“In addition to the cost burden, this may create a false sense of security that can lead to the neglect of other essential preventative measures. Everyone is, therefore, reminded to practise good personal hygiene,” the ministry’s statement read.

Attempts to get clarification from the Health ministry were fruitless yesterday as the permanent secretary Agnes Mahomva was in meetings, while epidemiology and disease control director Portia Manangazira, referred all questions to her boss.

“The permanent secretary will be able to give you the updates on the position on face masks, just call her and she will help,” Manangazira said.