The conditions set for businesses in the formal sector to re-open were simple and were sensible from a public health point of view: staff to undergo the rapid Covid-19 test, with a confirmation test if positive, social distancing to be observed by staff and customers, face masks to be worn by all, and people entering the premises to be scanned for temperature.
But by yesterday it had become obvious that almost every business was facing almost insurmountable difficulties in organising tests, with suppliers of test kits demanding US$25 for each kit being just the first problem.
The Cabinet thus allowed businesses to re-open under modified conditions that do not seem to add significant risk to the health of staff and customers. Businesses can open with testing postponed until the required kits are available, but with employers now being asked to be strict about the temperature test, not just barring staff with an above average temperature, but also referring that person to the health authorities so they can be properly tested.
Employers also have to be strict about enforcing face masks, sanitisers and social distancing, which they had to do anyway. Just because someone is negative on day one does not mean they cannot be infected that night, hence the need in all cases for workplace compliance of distancing, sanitisers and masks, and for daily checks of temperature.
This gives everyone the breathing space they need while more test kits are procured and a system put into place that allows large numbers to be rapidly tested at modest cost.
We do not know if the quoted US$25 is a reasonable price for a kit or is excessive profiteering, but someone needs to look into it. The Indian Government, for example, has fixed a maximum private price that covers costs with a bit of mark-up, but does not allow huge profits.
The same move has seen Indian manufacturers opening production lines.
The demand for foreign currency payment is a more serious sticking point.
Few businesses have free funds lying around, and banks do not make foreign currency payments to local suppliers. Although during the Covid-19 emergency customers are allowed to pay local businesses in foreign currency, very few do so, as any business person will tell you.
This means a business forced to pay foreign currency for tests has to resort to the black market, that is breaking the law.
While no one wants to pay for tests, most recognise that a modest and reasonable fee will probably be required, but it needs to be payable in local currency and it probably needs to be set by the Government.
What most employers would really like is for the Ministry of Health and Child Care to take a leading role in the process, assigning staff to test teams who can be booked to visit a business premises, or who can be booked by appointment at a hospital unit or clinic with a single local currency payment made to a designated account.
Private testing might well allow earlier appointments, and cost slightly more in return since private facilities want a profit while State facilities should just want to cover costs, but again the Ministry should be able to fix a price and set conditions. No one is against private sector involvement, indeed it might be a necessity. But just as we have to keep an eye open for corruption in the public sector we need to keep the other one open for profiteering in the private sector. The dishonest in the two sectors have different ways of skimming the public, but both need to be blocked.
The other problem that has arisen is also easy to fix. Different teams of police implement different rules, probably because no set standard has been put in place and, in some cases, hopefully very few, because a police officer is looking for an opportunity to be bribed.
The face mask rule has not caused problems, because it is so simple. There is either a face mask on the face covering nose and mouth or there is not. Arguments cannot arise.
But there is a variable set of checks over whether a person travelling, especially into a city centre, should be permitted to do so.
This should not be a major problem as the lockdown is eased. Obvious, if a vendor with a pile of goods is trying to open early they can be stopped, but most wanting to use the inadequate public transport available are legitimate and should be accepted as such.
Employers will write letters certifying that a person is on the payroll and expected at work, or expected to turn up for a test, but generally the employee needs to get to work in the first place to collect the letter.
We note the letters are not a legal requirement, simply evidence that the person is telling the truth in cases where there is a legitimate query. Perhaps a WhatsApp message or SMS from employer to worker could tilt the balance if a police officer has reason to be suspicious. But a bit more trust between public and police is also required. Neither should regard the other as the enemy, and police should be reasonable.
None of the hassles in implementing a rational set of public health requirements should be insoluble and so all should be fixed almost instantly.
The objective is get the economy moving again, without killing anyone while we do that.
If we all keep that simple goal in mind, rather than trying to see this as an opening to make money or because we disagree with the expert advice given to the Government, Zimbabwe can succeed in both objectives.