Mozambique: Police Illegally Close Shops, While Bars Ignore Social Distancing

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Maputo — In parts of Maputo, the Mozambican police have acted as if the declaration of a state of emergency, to deal with the threat posed by the Covid-19 respiratory disease, gives them the right to close down bars, shops and market stalls, while elsewhere in the city traders and their clients behaved as if nothing had changed.

The declaration of a state of emergency lists, among the "special restrictive measures" imposed, "the closure of commercial entertainment establishments and similar, or a reduction in their activity".

This is not an outright ban on any activity, especially as the government has not yet published the promised decrees that will put flesh on the bare bones of the declaration.

But in downtown Maputo on Wednesday, reports Thursday's issue of the independent newssheet "Mediafax", the police closed down shops, bars and restaurants, something which so far they have no power to do.

"Commercial entertainment establishments" can indeed be interpreted as covering bars, but a lockdown of all trade is certainly not intended.

The Council of Ministers (Cabinet) has drawn up the necessary decrees to supplement the declaration of a state of emergency, but the government spokesperson, Deputy Justice Minister Filimao Suaze, said they would only be announced on Thursday.

As for the closure of shops and the like, Suaze said the government was still regulating and limiting how they would function.

The government divides measures against Covid-19 into four stages - only the final stage, level four, envisages a total lockdown (similar to what is happening in South Africa) and Suaze made it clear that Mozambique has not reached that stage yet.

Stage three does envisage social distancing and the avoidance of large crowds - hence the ban on religious gatherings, and most public political, cultural and sporting activities.

Journalists who toured the Maputo suburbs on Wednesday afternoon and evening found little sign of social distancing. Crowds continued to gather at bars and informal markets. The only visible concession to the Covid-19 pandemic was that the owners of each stall provided soap and water for their clients to wash their hands.

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