Over 1 200 businesses issued with exemption letters in manufacturing and commerce have largely operated smoothly during the lockdown, a development that has ensured continued availability of basic commodities and essential services, according to Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza.
Following the recent announcement of the Level Four lockdown — now entering its fourth week — the Ministry of Industry and Commerce was mandated to issue exemption letters to businesses in the manufacturing sector and related value chains, including the commerce and service sectors, in terms of Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021 Public Health (Covid 19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.
So far, the ministry has issued 571 letters to manufacturing companies and 673 to the commerce sector.
There had been concerns over the availability of basic goods given that the lockdown was announced just after the holidays.
Traditionally, most companies close shop during the festive season and use the long break to undertake annual maintenance works on plants and machinery.
Buffer stocks usually cover the period up to mid-January when they reopen.
However, Dr Nzenza said some companies, especially those in the pharmaceutical, food and drink value chains, and other producers of basic commodities such as maize-meal, cooking oil, flour, bread, milk and tea, did not close during the festive season.
“We have observed that the availability of goods has not been affected as businesses under essential services largely operated without hindrances,” said Dr Nzenza.
“Some of the companies also did not close during the festive season, so the supply of commodities was no affected.”
The country tightened restrictions meant to curb the spread of coronavirus earlier this month after an exponential rise in infections and deaths.
A 6am to 6pm curfew is now in place while workers in non-essential businesses have been ordered to stay at home.
However, the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ) has since written to the Government to consider extending business hours from the current 8am to 3pm as some companies are now complaining of viability challenges.
“We humbly request for a review of business operating hours (opening 7am and closing 4 for manufacturing, 8am to 5pm for supermarkets and other retail outlets) to reduce overcrowding, and curfew hours to run from 7pm to 5am to allow movement of those in essential services to travel from home to work and back ahead of curfew hours.
“Drivers entrusted with the responsibility of transporting other employees should be exempted from curfew hours to facilitate their travelling from work to home,” said EMCOZ in a letter to Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care Dr Constantino Chiwenga.
It claimed some of its members were finding it difficult to get exemption letters.
Zimbabwe first introduced a tough lockdown in March last year but gradually eased the restrictions as the virus was brought under control.
Dr Nzenza said companies that were issued with exemption letters during the previous lockdowns were familiar with the criteria for renewing their applications and the ministry “promptly extended their exemption letters”.
“There had been new applications that the ministry assessed in line with the gazetted criteria for essential services,” she added.
The Government continues to urge companies to scrupulously adhere to the Covid-19 prevention and protective protocols for their employees in light of the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
Said Dr Nzenza: “I would like to commend the manufacturing sector and enterprise for rising to the task by increasing the manufacture and supply of drugs and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) in order to meet the surge in demand.
“Through the Consumer Protection Directorate in the ministry, in conjunction with the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe and Standards Association of Zimbabwe, we are consistently monitoring the availability, accessibility and affordability of the materials required to prevent and fight Covid-19.”
“In comparison to previous lockdowns, companies now know how to secure exemption letters and adherence to minimum safety standards to mitigate the risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus,” said Dr Nzenza.