Community Health Legal and Parliamentary Affiars

Public Health Lock-down Order: Further Relaxation of Lock-down

VP Chiwenga, the Minister of Health and Child Care

By Veritas

On the 16th March, the Cabinet agreed to further relaxations in the national lock-down.  According to the post-Cabinet press briefing:

“Cabinet … agreed that all sporting activities will now resume and observe Standard Operating Procedures.  Restaurants are now allowed to open for sit-ins at 50% sitting capacity, under strict adherence to COVID-19 guidelines.  Those found breaking the restrictions will be closed immediately.”

The Public Health Lock-down Order was later amended to give legal effect to these measures [the amendment [link] was dated the 19th March, although there seemed to be some delay in issuing it]  A consolidated version of the Order, incorporating the latest amendments, can be accessed on the Veritas website [link].

In this Bill Watch, we shall outline the effects of the amendments.

Sporting Activities

Under a new section 26B, sportspersons can participate in medium and high-risk sports [we shall explain later what those sports are] subject to the following conditions:

·      They must get approval in advance from the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation.

·      All athletes, players, coaches and associated staff must be tested for COVID-19 every 14 days and at least 48 hours before every game.

·      PPEs such as face masks and sanitisers must be available for players and associated staff.

·      Items such as towels, clothing, water bottles and face masks must not be shared.

·      All facilities, including showers and changing rooms, must be disinfected regularly and a register kept of the disinfections.

·      Records must be kept of all athletes, players and associated staff who are present.

·      Any spectators who attend must observe social distancing, wear face masks, submit to having their temperatures checked and have their hands sanitised [This is what the new section 26B(c) provides, but paragraph 5 of the new Schedule, on the other hand, says that no spectators are allowed].

·      Only water may be served at stadia – no food or liquor.

Which Sports are Allowed to Resume?

Low-risk sports

Low-risk sports had already been allowed to resume.  They are defined as non-contact sports classified as low-risk by the Sports Minister, in which participants can comply with the social distancing rule.  The Order does not list these sports, but golf, bowls and tennis would presumably all be low-risk.

Medium-risk sports

A new schedule to the Order lists the following sports as medium-risk:  softball, weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, baseball, darts, dodgeball, korfball, pool, sailing, skateboarding and gymnasiums [which are venues rather than sports, surely?]

High-risk sports

The new schedule lists the following sports as high-risk:  football, wrestling, boxing, basketball, volleyball, karate, taekwondo, netball, handball, judo, hockey, rugby, bodybuilding, squash, wushu, tug of war and kick-boxing.

Restaurants

Restaurants can open to serve sit-in meals during their normal licensed hours.  They must however open at only 50 per cent capacity – i.e. have only half their normal number of customers.  It should be noted that this applies also to hotel restaurants, which have hitherto been allowed to open at full capacity in order to serve hotel guests.  It should also be noted that, if they have been granted a liquor licence, restaurants may sell liquor to their customers but only between 8 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.

Further Changes for Easter?

Two days ago the President announced measures that would be in place for the Easter holidays.  Some of the measures he announced were already in place, but some are new.

Measures already in place:

·      Bars and night clubs will remain closed during the Easter Holidays.

·      All gatherings, including church services, funerals and weddings will remain limited to not more than 50 people [At present church services are limited to 50 people, but only 30 may attend funerals under section 5(1)(b) of the Order.  That restriction on funerals remains the law until the Order is amended].

·      Wearing of masks and social distancing will be strictly adhered to and enforced.

·      The general public is encouraged to defer unnecessary travel outside localities of residence.  [Restrictions on inter-city travel have been lifted, but understandably travel is not encouraged]

New measures:

·      School learners in boarding schools will not be permitted to travel back home.  Equally, no parents will travel to the schools for purposes of visits.  [For Government schools at least, this measure does not require any changes in the law:  it can be put in place through administrative instructions from the Ministry of Education.]

·      Travellers coming into the country from neighbouring States must undergo valid Covid-19 PCR tests not more than 48 hours before they leave for Zimbabwe.  Travellers whose test results do not clear them for safe travel will be quarantined for 10 days at designated hotels, and at their own cost.  [At present, under section 8(1)(a) of the Order, travellers who cannot show a Covid-free certificate are tested at a holding facility and, if found to be negative, are allowed to self-quarantine at home.]

Comments

The measures we noted above, relating to sports and restaurants, were announced by Cabinet and were not followed up by amendments to the Lock-down Order until at least three days later.  This may not seem very long, but the announcement was phrased in a way that suggested the Cabinet was changing the lock-down law immediately, that the changes were to have effect as soon as they were announced.  The Cabinet had no power to do this.  The lock-down law is contained in regulations and orders made under the Public Health Act, and it can be changed only by statutory instruments published by the Minister responsible for health.  The law restricts people’s freedoms (by confining them to their homes and requiring them to wear face masks, maintain social distancing and so on) and it is enforced through criminal sanctions.  It must therefore be properly enacted:  the rule of law requires this.  It cannot be enacted or changed by a Cabinet decree.

The measures for Easter were announced by the President and have not yet been incorporated into the Lock-down Order.  Most of them, as we have pointed out, is already part of the law or in the case of confining borders to their schools can be put into effect through administrative instructions.  The remainder, though, requires amendments to the Order and it is to be hoped that the amendments will be made as soon as possible.

Veritas hopes that everyone will continue to wear face masks in public and observe the social distancing rule so that the lock-down relaxations outlined in this Bill Watch do not lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Easter Wishes

We wish all our subscribers and all Zimbabwe’s health workers a restful and Covid-free Easter.  We extend the same wish to the National COVID-19 Inter-Ministerial Response Task Force – with one exception:  we hope that those responsible for drafting the Public Health regulations and orders spend their Easter weekend diligently preparing new, revised and simplified legislation governing the national lock-down.  As we have pointed out more than once, the existing Lock-down Order has been amended so many times (18 to date) and has become so convoluted that it is almost impossible to understand.  If the drafters spend their Easter thoroughly revising the Order, they will have performed a real public service.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende