COLUMN | Dear Govt, for us to observe lockdown rules, we must understand them first

A year of confused, and confusing, lockdown regulations (pic: AFP)

Common Law with Mike Murenzvi

“We cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws.”

~ Hunter S. Thompson

The year 2020 has been and gone. 2021 started on a very sombre tone. For eleven months now, we have been through the rigmarole of emotions; from fear of the unknown, to extended levels of lockdown, to fatigue and complacency.

Now, as the pandemic marks its first anniversary, we find ourselves facing new waves of infections, but also vaccinations are becoming a reality.

The Zimbabwean response to the pandemic, in many ways, mimicked that of South Africa and a number of Western countries by way of lockdowns and general people movement restrictions. These have been proven methods for combatting other epidemics in the past.

The difference, however, was in the guiding principles and overall management thereof. Ours was a messy approach of gazetting a moving target of lockdown measures that became so twisted that they stopped making sense and in some cases conflicted themselves.

The first lockdown regulations were amended 22 times before being fully repealed and replaced by a consolidated version (SI 200/2020). This subsequent consolidation has also been amended fourteen times so far. Where other countries speak of clear and distinct response levels that give confidence to all stakeholders, in respect of the Dos and Don’ts, the Zimbabwe government decided to have one that speaks of a general situation on the ground at that time.

The confusion stemming from this has perpetuated many myths and misunderstandings each time there are changes.

In July 2020, I wrote about this very same issue last July and it seems that despite an overhauled set of regulations, nothing really changed.

[ALSO READ: Keeping up with Zimbabwe’s shifting lockdown rules is getting harder. Time to clean them up]

Veritas Zimbabwe, a legal watchdog, also commented along the same lines in their Bill Watch series as follows:

“The law must be obeyed, particularly in the case of the Lock-down Order, which everyone must comply with if we are to survive this dreadful pandemic. In order for the law to be obeyed it must be understood. The Order must be consolidated and simplified as soon as possible, for the sake of us all.”

What are the levels in the current regulations?

The current regulations are structured in a convoluted mess summarised as follows:

National Lockdown and Prohibition of Gatherings: This is a globally applicable provision regardless of the “level” in operation. It specifies the general conditions of the lockdown, defines essential services and sets limits on numbers of people that are considered a gathering for different purposes.

Border Closure Orders: This is a globally applicable provision regardless of the “level” in operation. It specifies the conditions for operation of borders and airports as well as who can travel in and out of the country.

Part IV Phased Relaxation of National Lockdown: This provision allows the following industries to operate during the lockdown; mining, tobacco auctions, manufacturing, and construction.

Level 2 Phased Relaxation of National Lockdown:  This provision allows the rest of formal commercial and industrial sectors to operate, as well as allow low risk sports in public places. It also sets conditions for the sale of alcohol and operation of tourism facilities

Partial Reversion to Level IV Lockdown: This is what is currently in force. It is a hybrid of the Part IV Phased Relaxation of National Lockdown and a full scale lockdown allowing only essential services. It introduces specific limitations across the entire set of rules to leave only what is permissible.

At this point, you are allowed to be confused, because if you do not read the full consolidated and amended version of the regulations, you can very easily lose track of what conditions apply and which ones do not.

A case in point was the issue of the sale of alcohol at the beginning of the year, when SI 10/2021 was gazetted. Even government twisted itself into knots in trying to decipher the meaning of the actual SI against the announcement speech made by the Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care.

Eventually, an understanding was reached allowing certain sales of alcohol without actually changing the wording of the SI.

Lockdown Reimagined

By now, the Ministry of Health and Child Care, and government as a whole, should have disaggregated statistics of how the pandemic is affecting different parts of the country. This information should be put to use to enforce strategic interventions and conditions tailored to different situations.

Each district in the country has its own peculiarities that don’t require a blunt instrument approach. Restrictions should be loosened where there are the least number of cases and tightened where there is an active outbreak. This can only be achieved by having lockdown levels that speak to those conditions and appropriate guidelines that trigger the changes in levels.

People should be allowed to live their lives as freely as possible based on actual pandemic conditions on the ground, and not a countrywide perception that is informed by a few high incidence locations.

Keep it Simple

I repeat the same conclusion as in July; there is no need to be overcomplicated. Simplicity is key in ensuring that everyone is well-informed and understands their obligations limits to best protect themselves as well as those around them.

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Mike Murenzvi writes in his personal capacity

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