Sunday, 18 July 2021


Flagrant disregard for Covid-19 protocols and general laxity in following recommended guidelines at tobacco auction floors have made them a hotbed for the coronavirus.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care recently identified auction floors as Covid-19 hotspots. The tobacco marketing season started on April 7 and ended on Wednesday last week.

However, contract floors will continue until further notice, while mop-up sales will be held on August 5. No single case was reported during the 2020 marketing season.

Although the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) believes the rise in cases in the sector is being driven by new transmissible variants, a visit by The Sunday Mail Society revealed how a cavalier approach to protocols is putting workers and farmers at risk of contracting the deadly disease.

One of the country’s biggest tobacco marketing companies, Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF), was last week closed as management battled to contain the spread of the virus.

“Today, we are only taking deliveries. Sales have been suspended after some workers tested positive for Covid-19. The affected workers were given two weeks to recuperate and get treatment,” said one of the security guards who were manning the main entrance to the floors.

Despite the outbreak, vendors and farmers could be seen milling outside the company premises, defying laid down health restrictions. Justin Mbudzana a tobacco farmer said he was forced to spend two days at one of the auction floors.

“With the lockdown restrictions, I could not conclude both the delivery and sales on the same day. As a result, I spent much time here,” he said.

Last season, farmers were not gathering to sell their crop at auction floors as they scrupulously observed guidelines.

Informal trading outside the floors was banned and farmers were not allowed to sleep outside the auction floors.

But of late it has been business as usual for vendors. “We have since gathered that a number of workers at auction floors tested positive for Covid-19, therefore, putting the lives of tobacco farmers at risk. As a result, we have been telling our members to be vigilant and to adhere, in totality, to the health protocols,” said Dr Shadreck Makombe, president of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe.

But some of the auction floors are doing their best to comply.For instance, at Boka Tobacco Floors (BTF), the biggest auction floor in the country, there were few farmers and no vendors in sight.

BTF chief executive officer Mrs Chido Nyakudya spoke about the need to follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) advice to the letter.

“Just like last season, one of our major priorities is to make sure that our workers and clients are protected from Covid-19. Due to minimum contact, we are yet to record any Covid-19 cases,” she said.

Industry regulator, (TIMB), last season introduced sector-specific regulations to curb the spread of the virus. Some of the measures included decentralising the auction floors for easy access and to prevent gatherings. 

TIMB public affairs officer Ms Chelesani Moyo attributed soaring cases to the new variant.

“This season we have had to deal with a new variant of the virus and new cases have been reported in all sectors, not only at the auction floors. The new wave means that the regulations put in place at the onset of the marketing season had to be strengthened and serious monitoring undertaken to ensure everyone complies,” Ms Moyo said.

She said all stakeholders participating in the marketing of tobacco are being encouraged to get vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them.

TIMB is yet to collate statistics on the number of cases reported at auction floors since tests are done independently by the companies. Sunday Mail


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