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Employers fret over proposed blanket lockdown

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By Kudzai Kuwaza

THE Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (Emcoz) has warned against a blanket COVID-19 lockdown which it says will blunt the recovery that business had experienced during the pandemic.

This comes after the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) last week requested that President Emmerson Mnangagwa imposes a full-scale lockdown to curb the spread of the scourge.

Zimbabwe is in the throes of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with infections averaging 666 daily in the past week.

CZR president Denford Mutashu last week called for a total lockdown citing general complacency among citizens in most parts of the country, with no physical distancing or regard to wearing of masks.

He also called for an 8pm to 6am curfew and the reduction of business operating hours to 8am to 4pm for essential service providers.

However, Emcoz countered saying a blanket lockdown would have a detrimental effect on the economy.

“A total lockdown may compound the problem that we were beginning to see being resolved as business sentiment was gradually becoming positive and bullish,” Emcoz said in a statement.

“Our considered view is that a blanket national lockdown with tight restrictions on access to workplaces will reverse the gains in productivity that we had started witnessing in the economy”

Emcoz said instead of reducing operating hours from 8am to 4pm, as recommended by CZR, retail outlets should have extended trading hours to reduce overcrowding.

“Contrary to sentiment expressed elsewhere, reduced working hours in the retail sector make the retailing outlets more crowded since the same number of shoppers need to do their shopping during the reduced hours,” Emcoz said.

“This increases risk and, therefore, we would recommend extended trading hours, but under strict observance to COVID-19 protocols. This way, we would as a nation be able to address the health concerns simultaneously with the requirement not to disrupt business.”

The employers body said any restriction in working hours for manufacturers should take into account  shift working arrangements which need not to be unnecessarily disrupted.

Emcoz also recommended that private transporters, who show capacity to comply with COVID-19 protocols, be allowed to operator to reduce pressure on the Zupco buses.

“We stand ready to engage the authorities and social partners in order to clarify any particular aspects of our proposal,” Emcoz said.

The warning by Emcoz follows a similar call by the Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe (TBCZ) last week, which criticised the proposal by CZR for a national lockdown.

“The Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe has expressed deep concern over the reported call by the Confederation of Zimbabwean Retailers for a national lockdown. The travel and tourism sector has been in the forefront of efforts to support the national drive to eliminate COVID-19, and continues to support this effort wholeheartedly,” TBCZ president Wengayi Nhau said in a statement.

“The travel and tourism sector is starting to recover from the effects of this and it is hoped to regain a momentum to rebuild the sector, most especially to re-employ the thousands of people who have lost jobs and bring a measure of relief to the tens of thousands of people in families and communities affected by these job losses and business closures.”

Nhau said a national lockdown had consequences that were massively destructive, as seen by the unprecedented decimation of livelihoods and incomes for families and communities experienced during lockdown irrespective of its intent.

“In this regard, we find it irresponsible to for CZR to make this call and we remind that association that its members, who are supermarkets were among the very few operations allowed to operate in a national lockdown and are therefore not qualified to make calls that are prejudicial to other legitimate operations,” he said.

“We urge a balanced programme of action by the authorities and avoidance of knee-jerk reactions that are desperately harmful in other ways.”

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