Tuesday, 5 May 2020

FOREX CORONAVIRUS TEST KITS SPARK OUTRAGE


While all businesses in the formal sector can now reopen under strict health conditions as Zimbabwe moves into level 2 lockdown, many were unable to do so yesterday with the rapid testing of staff being the biggest single problem as private suppliers were demanding US$25 a test kit, payable only in foreign currency.

The illegal demand for foreign currency, and high prices of test kits, made it hard for many companies, already hit by cash flow problems after five weeks of lockdown, to restart. Business owners said public sector health institutions were not yet ready to handle queries from employers.

Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza yesterday conceded that testing kits were expensive and there was a shortage on the market.

“We are encouraging testing at all levels. However, we have also realised that there is a challenge in accessing those test kits. The second challenge is the cost of testing. So this morning, the people from industry, private sector and SMEs got together in a dialogue to say: ‘If we are going to test everybody across the board, how best are we going to do it”’ she said. 

A second problem was in police control of traffic. While all police roadblocks were enforcing the new legal requirement for face masks even-handedly, turning away those without, some were also demanding proof that the person being stopped was in fact employed in a permitted business. Employers are ready to give suitable letters to staff, but usually the member of staff has to come to work in the first place to get the letter.

Under the revised lockdown regulations, formal businesses can reopen from 8am to 3pm so long as their staff are tested for Covid-19, wearing of facemasks at work is enforced, social distancing is observed, and all staff and customers are scanned for temperature.

National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said police had noted more people travelling to the city centres. He urged companies to provide letters stating that particular staff members were employed in an exempted concern and warned that those without facemasks would not just be turned away but could be arrested.

The testing condition needs urgent attention. 

Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) chief executive officer Mr Takunda Mugaga said suppliers of test kits were seeking to profiteer.

“The test kits are very expensive and they are being charged in US dollars. Why are they charging in US dollars only? That is unacceptable and should be addressed otherwise only 25 percent of the workforce will be tested,” said Mr Mugaga.

It is illegal in Zimbabwe to insist on foreign currency payments, although during the Covid-19 emergency businesses may accept foreign currency payments, but have to quote in Zimbabwe dollars.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Mr Henry Ruzvidzo said while some businesses did not open after struggling to interpret the lockdown developments, the health sector was also not ready to immediately handle enquiries from industrialists.

“The issue of testing has been received with mixed reactions with many not sure on the effectiveness and benefit of the rapid tests from a company perspective. The precondition for the tests is seen as a major challenge for timely resumption of business activities as indications have shown challenges in the readiness of public health institutions to conduct the tests.

“Tests at private institutions might have cost challenges as well as the limited number of institutions that have been accredited so far. Business hopes that Government will consider extending the coverage of the $18 billion stimulus fund to include the cost of testing,” said Mr Ruzvidzo. 

In the Midlands, most companies opened with skeleton staff as they waited to test employees.

Bata Shoe Company managing director, Mr Simon Mutisya, said they had 150 employees so as to maintain social distance.

Thousands of people thronged Gweru city centre. Victoria Falls recorded an increase in human and vehicular traffic in the town centre as some businesses reopened.

Most people moved around streets with face masks, mostly home-made ones.

Hwange District Medical Officer Dr Fungai Musinami-Mvura said: “We haven’t started conducting tests for companies so far because test kits are not yet there. “

Most banks were open to the public while some small shops that had been closed all along, also reopened yesterday.

Workers in some clothing shops said they spent the day at work but with doors closed as they feared to open before being tested.

Earlier, the District Medical Office had circulated messages instructing companies that wished to open, to forward their names and details of employees for testing logistics.

In Mutare, some hair salons, clothing, hardware, electrical and cellphone shops, opened. Shops in the downtown area remained closed. Police continued to mount roadblocks on all major roads leading into the city.

Shop owners who spoke on condition of anonymity said although they had opened their doors, they had skeleton staff as they awaited Government to clarify how the testing of employees should be conducted.

In Beitbridge, more businesses are yet to open under the new lockdown guidelines but there is a high level of compliance at the shops, which have been operational in the last 30 days. Herald

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