Covid-19: SIs Underpinning Lock-down Extension – Bill Watch 17 / 2020

In a speech delivered at 4.30 p.m. yesterday, the President announced that the lock-down would continue for another 14 days, ending at midnight on Sunday the 3rd May – two days before schools are due to re-open.

With commendable promptness the Government published two statutory instruments immediately after the President’s speech; one of them, SI 92 prescribed quality standards for equipment such as face-masks, gowns and disinfectants, and the other, SI 93 gave legal effect to the lock-down extension. Both came into effect immediately. [See more details below]

In a further response to the extension, the Chief Justice issued a Practice Direction today postponing court cases and legal proceedings until the end of the extended lock-down.

In this Bill Watch we shall summarise the President’s speech and the contents of the two SIs and the Chief Justice’s Practice Direction.

Summary of the President’s Speech

The President’s speech is reported in full here. The main points the President made were as follows:

Twenty-four cases of Covid-19 infection have been detected and the number is likely to rise exponentially, bringing huge strain on the country’s health services. Government therefore has to try keep the infection rate at low levels and do its best to ward off a full-scale public health crisis. He said that the lock-down will buy us time by slowing transmission of the disease while other measures to cope with the pandemic are put in place. The lock-down entails great costs to the economy and to our people but it saves lives in the long run.

The national strategy against Covid-19 is founded on:

1. Levelling the pandemic

This entails arresting its spread in the immediate future, expanding testing to cover the whole country. More testing will enable the authorities to assess the spread of the disease and also to isolate cases that are detected. People who have been in contact with infected persons must be found and tested.

2. Repurposing institutions

Health institutions, industries, research centres and laboratories countrywide must be oriented towards helping to deal with the pandemic, providing the necessary expertise and equipment.

3. Capacitating health institutions

Health institutions must be readied, with beds, equipment and personnel, to cope with increased infections.

In view of the above and in line with recommendations from the WHO, the Government decided to extend the lock-down until the 3rd May in order to achieve the following objectives

  • To lower the rate at which infections increase and then reduce that rate
  • To expand testing
  • To allow more recoveries so that the health services are not overburdened

Lock-down exemptions

At the same time, in the interests of the economy:

The mining sector will be allowed to resume or scale up operations so long as:

  • social distancing and other public health safety measures are observed
  • the workforce is screened and tested ahead of resumed operations, and
  • workers remain within their accommodation at their workplaces while the lock-down continues.

The manufacturing sector, including small, medium and informal enterprises, can resume limited operations so long as social distancing and other public health safety measures are observed.

The Statutory Instruments

1. The Public Health (Standards for Personal Protective Apparel, Materials and Equipment) Regulations (SI 92 of 2020)

These regulations, made in terms of the Public Health Act, prohibit the sale, barter, importation and manufacture of apparel, materials and equipment used for preventing the transmission of Covid-19, unless it conforms with the specifications and standards laid down in the Schedule to the regulations. Anyone contravening the regulations will be liable to a fine of level 12 (currently ZW$30 000) or a year’s imprisonment or both.

The regulations are clearly intended to prevent the importation and sale of sub-standard materials and equipment on the “black” or “grey” market.

2. The Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) (Amendment) Order, 2020 (No. 3) (SI 93 of 2020)

This amendment order does the following:

  • It will extend the period of the lock-down to the 3rd May. The lock-down will now come to an end at midnight on Sunday 3rd May.
  • It will make it clear that broadcasting services and the activities of journalists, newspaper vendors and other employees of communications services are all “essential services” and exempt from the lock-down.
  • All Government aerodromes, not just the main ones at Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, can remain open during the lock-down.
  • Aircraft engaged in essential services can land and remain in Zimbabwe for up to 10 hours so long as their crew members remain on board or, if they leave the aircraft, have limited contact with other people or self-isolate themselves.
  • Goods vehicles can enter Zimbabwe so long as the drivers are in possession of thermometers and sanitisers and do not leave their vehicles except at designated stopping-places and for limited purposes.
  • Medical supplies needed to combat Covid-19 cannot be exported except with the authority of the Minister of Health and Child Care.

Comment: The amendments will not allow mines and manufacturing enterprises to re-open [as was announced by the President in this speech] so for the moment they are still legally subject to the lock-down. One hopes, for the sake of the economy, that this omission will be remedied soon.

The New Practice Direction

The Practice Direction issued by the Chief Justice today further postpones criminal cases until after the end of the extended lock-down. The dates to which the cases are now postponed is shown in a schedule in the Practice Direction. Summonses and subpoenas requiring accused persons and witnesses to appear in criminal cases between the 20th April and the 3rd May are cancelled and will have to be reissued after the lock-down. In addition all sales in execution are stayed for the duration of the lock-down [Presumably this includes sales in civil cases because there are few if any such sales in criminal matters; presumably, too, if dates for the sales have been fixed they will have to be re-advertised].

Note: Consolidated Regulations and Order

Consolidated versions of SIs 77 and 83 of 2020, incorporating all amendments to them, are available on the Veritas website.

Source: Veritas