The new 10-day quarantine requirements for returning residents and visitors, and the nine-hour extended curfew were gazetted yesterday, along with the legal backing for the present policies that bar alcohol sales to the unvaccinated at bars and nightclubs.
Statutory Instrument 267 of 2021 was gazetted through the Ministry of Health and Child Care as required in the Public Health Act. The new regulations stipulate that everyone entering Zimbabwe must undergo a Covid-19 PCR test even where returnees or visitors produce a Covid-19 free certificate from elsewhere and then even if negative they should go into mandatory quarantine at their own cost in a facility designated by the Government.
The relevant section states that “all returning residents and visitors have to undergo PCR testing (notwithstanding that they present a PCR negative test from elsewhere), and those found to be negative will be quarantined at their own cost for 10 days”. Those found positive have to be isolated in an isolation centre, which is the present position. Until yesterday those who were negative on the test could enter the country without further fuss.
There is some flexibility on where the returning residents or visitors can be quarantined, and self-quarantining is permitted, but the premises need to be approved in advance.
“A returning resident or visitor found to be negative for Covid-19 may self-quarantine at any premises cleared for the purpose in advance by an enforcement officer acting on the instructions of the Ministry for Health.”
The new measures are part of an array of interventions announced by President Mnangagwa on Tuesday meant to strengthen the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic in light of the new Omicron variant which could exacerbate a fourth wave of infections. Other measures cited in the SI include an extension to the curfew. The previous curfew, the result of modest relaxation as the third wave receded, was 10pm to 5.30pm. It now runs from 9pm to 6am.
The legal ban on the consumption of liquor at bottle stores has been reinstated, as has the ban on the sale of alcohol to unvaccinated patrons at nightclubs and bars, the limiting of business hours to between 7am and 7pm, and the enforcement of WHO protocols of face masks, temperature checks, hand sanitising and social distancing.
Although the Statutory Instrument, which was gazetted yesterday, took effect immediately, the reports on social media that returnees at Beitbridge border post were already being sent to quarantine even before the SI was gazetted were false. The authorities at Beitbridge yesterday were still using the previous regulations and travellers with valid PCR test certificates were passing through the port of entry without any hassles after undergoing strict screening at the port health section.
Beitbridge District Medical Officer Dr Lenos Samhere said the new rules would come into force once the details were officially communicated. Under the current set-up, visitors and returning residents are expected to produce a PCR Covid-19 clearance certificate valid for not more than 48 hours for ordinary travellers, two weeks for crossborder transporters and 30 days for truck drivers.
Those who turn up without a valid test or with a fake certificate, are referred to the Beitbridge Transit, Quarantine and Isolation Centre located at the National Social Security Authority building for testing.
However, Zimbabweans deported home are tested and also sent into mandatory quarantine since they would be coming from highly concentrated and crowded holding places. Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director Dr Rudo Chikodzore reiterated that returnees were being sent to the quarantine centre for tests rather than quarantine as some wrongly suggest.
“From the onset when we set up our Covid-19 response in 2020, a multi-disciplinary team comprising the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Ministry of Social Welfare and other relevant ministries were set up based the quarantine centre to ease congestion at the border. But because we have been seeing an increased number of people coming in, PCR testing is being done at the quarantine centre at NSSA building.
“So if someone comes and needs a PCR test, they are referred to the quarantine centre. Therefore those being sent to the quarantine centre are in the meantime being sent there to get additional services in line with the Covid-19 country protocols,” she said.
A total of 21 660 Zimbabweans returning from Eswatini, Lesotho and South Africa by road have passed through the centre since March 2020.