COVID-19 Testing Modalities for Reopening Outlined

Companies should arrange with designated Covid-19 testing facilities to ensure their employees are tested before they resume operations from today, with a number of facilities, both Government and privately owned, now approved for rapid testing.

President Mnangagwa announced on Friday that Government was moving to Level Two of the national lockdown today, where businesses in the formal sector are allowed to resume operations under stipulated World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

Facilities that have been designated for Covid-19 testing include all Government hospitals, mission hospitals and local authority institutions involved with medical examinations.

Selected private facilities have been identified and designated for rapid Covid-19 testing, including New Start Centres, Premier Service Medical Investments, Lancet laboratories and CIMAS.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa, in her daily Covid-19 briefing at State House last night, said as announced by President Mnangagwa, the reopening of industry and commerce was premised on mandatory testing of employers and employees.

To expedite the testing process, companies are encouraged to procure Covid-19 rapid test kits for themselves, guided by the Ministry of Health and Child Care in terms of test kit specifications.

Minister Mutsvangwa said employers must arrange with designated testing facilities, public and private, for their employees to be tested at an agreed time at the facilities or at the workplace.

“For small organisations, the employees will go to the health facilities or designated testing centres for their testing. For larger organisations, arrangements will have to be made for testing to be conducted at the business premises by health officials from the testing institution, to avoid congestion at designated testing facilities.”

The Ministry of Health and Child Care would provide standardised data collection tools for use during the screening process.

The minister said businesses that fall under the formal commercial and industrial sector include those who:

Hold a shop licence or other licence from a local authority and operate the business in question from specified premises;

Lessees of premises governed by the Commercial Premises (Lease Control) Act and are registered operators for the purpose of the Value Added Tax Act;

Businesses registered as an employer for the purpose of paying employees’ tax under the Income Tax Act and are parties to a collective bargaining agreement negotiated through an employment council governing the business in question;

If any question arose as to whether a business in the commercial and industrial sector is formal or not, the business had the burden of proving to the satisfaction of a health officer that the business is formal, said Minister Mutsvangwa.

“Those who fall under the above categories are only allowed to resume work for the first time during the lockdown when the employers and employees have been screened and tested for Covid-19 at the direction of health officers using a test approved by the Ministry of Health and Child Care.”

Responding on legal matters arising from the opening of business today, Attorney-General Advocate Prince Machaya said the lockdown was still in place, but exemption letters were not a legal requirement.

He said the letters were an administrative document that could be asked for by law enforcers.

Earlier, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Secretary, Mr Nick Mangwana, yesterday clarified modalities under which companies in essential services could continue operating while tests were arranged.

Those who had been going to work under the previous Level Four and Level Three of the lockdown should continue to report for duty as usual, along with those working in industry and commerce who have been tested and were negative for Covid-19.

Level Four was the original lockdown with only essential services operating. Level three was reached when mining, manufacturing and tobacco sales were authorised to resume operations.

Business leaders who spoke to The Herald yesterday welcomed the decision by Government to open the industry but warned that working capital requirements had to be sorted out in many firms and that implementation of the $18 billion rescue and recovery package announced by the President was therefore required urgently.

The package allocated $10,7 billion to the productive sectors, through the banking system, in low-interest loans, has a six-month grace period and repayments spread over one to four years depending on circumstances

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry (CZI) president Mr Henry Ruzvidzo said industry would respond to the call to go back to work, with all stakeholders expected to facilitate, rather than impede, the return to work by many people.

“Employers will do what is necessary and required to ensure the safety of employees and to prevent spreading of the disease.”

Mr Ruzvidzo said the economy should be resuscitated and while international help was necessary, Zimbabweans should work with the available resources.

Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe president, Dr Israel Murefu, said employers welcomed decision to allow more companies to resume operations. This decision was good for the economy and protection of jobs.

“From an employment protection perspective, we think the move will save jobs and incomes of the working people in all sectors. However, companies have already borne the brunt of not generating income because of the five-week closure.

“They need assistance with working capital to be able to meaningfully start their operations at a reasonable level so that they can employ all their workers who are currently sitting at home. Without that financial assistance many companies will struggle to keep all their workers and so businesses are keenly awaiting the details of the $18 billion stimulus package announced by Government,” said Dr Murefu.

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