Rights Lawyers Say It Is Govt’s Duty, Not Employers to Fund COVID-19 Tests

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has demanded Health Minister Obadiah Moyo to reverse an order issued this week directing employers to foot bills for their employees’ COVID-19 test and screening.

Early this week, the health minister ordered that every employee returning to work after reopening of business must undergo a mandatory test for coronavirus within 14 days.

Employers were ordered to pay for the test, which cost up to US$25 per person. Industrialists have also raised concerns over the order adding the directive was untenable and opted to close business until the COVID-19 crisis is over.

However, the ZLHR has written to Moyo arguing it is instead the responsibility of government under the country’s Constitution for it to ensure that it tests and screens every citizen for COVID-19.

This is contained in a letter that the ZLHR through its lawyers Mbizo, Muchadehama and Makoni wrote to Moyo.

The lawyers said on 14 April this year, the minister at the High Court undertook to ensure that sufficient COVID-19 test kits were availed at all public hospitals.

“You also undertook in terms of the court order to conduct extensive screening and testing including door-to-door testing in order to account for asymptomatic carriers,” part of the letter reads.

“The order as read with your guidelines is shifting the obligation to acquire testing kits onto the formal commercial and industrial sector, burdening the sector, which is reeling from the effects of the lockdown.”

ZLHR said this was contrary to the letter and spirit of the provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and in breach of the High Court order and must be reversed.

The ZLHR also questioned why companies that have been operating since the start of the lockdown had their employees exempted from testing and screening.

“This is illogical and discriminatory and does not make any sense. The very purpose of the lockdown was to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and for over a month only those at the frontline and those designated as essential services were reporting for work while the rest were confined to their homes.

“Some of them were exposed to returning residents and immigrants some of whom were returning from hotspots who were not screened and tested but these groups are exempt from the screening and testing requirements,” said ZLHR.

It said the initial four-week lockdown period in April was enough for those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 while confined in their homes to be accounted for.

“What was the point of locking them down if it was not to prevent them from infection?” said ZLHR before giving the minister an ultimatum to respond by not later than this Friday or they will take the matter to the courts to seek redress.

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