Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Monday night declared a state of emergency throughout the country, taking effect at zero hours on Wednesday and lasting until the end of April.
The measure is intended to halt the spread of the Covid-19 respiratory disease, caused by the new coronavirus first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December. The declaration of a state of emergency must be submitted to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, within 24 hours. The Assembly then has 48 hours to decide whether to ratify it.
The Assembly is currently sitting in Maputo, and Nyusi said he has already sent his declaration to it, for ratification.
The new measures tighten restrictions on gatherings. Initially, on 14 March the government banned all gatherings of more than 300 people. As from 23 March, this limit was reduced to 50.
Now, as from 1 April, all meetings except state events and unspecified "social" occasions are banned. This covers all political, cultural, sporting and recreational activities, and all religious ceremonies.
All commercial entertainment establishments are to be closed, or "when applicable", their activities are to be reduced. Nyusi's statement did not make clear whether this ban extends to restaurants and bars.
A 14 day quarantine period is imposed, not only on returning travellers, but on anybody who has been outside the country recently, and on anyone who has been in contact with people known to be infected with the coronavirus.
The state of emergency also bars the entry of people at the airports, ports and land borders, except for reasons of state, for questions related with public health, and for the transport of merchandise by duly authorised operators. It also limits (but does not forbid) the movement of people within Mozambique. The nature of these "limits" has yet to be specified.
Nyusi added that the government will guide the country's industry to produce goods needed for fighting the pandemic. He promised tighter inspection of prices to ensure that speculators do not take advantage of the crisis.
The government, he added, will adopt "sustainable fiscal and monetary measures" to support private companies in mitigating the impact of Covid-19 on their business. The Confederation of Mozambican Business Associations (CTA) has already called for interest rates to be slashed, and for companies to be allowed to override workers' employment contracts.
Shift work, or other forms of working that reduce person to person contact must be introduced in both public and private sectors.
Nyusi's speech only gave the bare bones of the state of emergency, and left many questions unanswered. The details will be in decrees to be issued, probably on Tuesday, by the Council of Ministers (Cabinet).
Nyusi urged all citizens to implement the new measures, and to continue observing measures of personal and collective hygiene, particularly the regular washing of hands.
"We are aware that the measures we are announcing could impact our lives negatively", he said. "But they are necessary to protect the lives of each and every one of us, the lives of our children, our relatives, and of all of society".
He called on citizens to denounce to the authorities anyone who refuses to comply with the new measures. "Under these extreme circumstances, I want to continue urging everyone to obey unconditionally the authorities who have the task of enforcing these measures".
These measures fall short of a lockdown, such as that in force in South Africa and many European countries. They correspond to level three of the government's plan to halt the spread of Covid-19. Levels one and two were the measures introduced on 14 March and 23 March.
A total lockdown is covered by Level four, and clearly the government hopes that the situation will be under control by the end of April, so that it does not have to take more extreme measures. Level four would include a ban on all travel, and an order that all citizens must stay at home.