Maputo — The Mozambican government has ordered the closure of all "recreational, sporting, cultural and leisure activities held in public places", as it attempts to enforce social distancing in order to hinder the spread of the new coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.
Explaining the government measures that give the details of the state of emergency ratified on Tuesday by the country's parliament, Justice Minister Helena Kida, speaking at a Maputo press conference on Thursday, listed the establishments to be closed as "discotheques, games rooms, bars and stalls intended for the sale of alcoholic drinks, gymnasiums, museums, libraries, theatres, monuments and the like, among others".
The extraordinarily vague term "among others" seems to give the government carte blanche to add other institutions to this list.
The purpose of the closures is to prevent large numbers of people gathering in confined spaces, which would allow easy spread of the coronavirus.
The government is also suspending the issuing of official documents to avoid the queues of applicants at government offices. During the state of emergency the government will not issue travel and identity documents (such as identity cards and passports), driving licences, marriage certificates, criminal record certificates, vehicle registration documents, permits and tax identification numbers (known as NUITs).
The validity of key documents that expire during the state of emergency will be extended to 30 June. This provision covers identity cards, driving licences and residence permits for foreigners.
On Thursday morning, just a few hours before Kida's press conference, huge crowds were still gathering at various state institutions. For example, the independent television station STV found a large crowd at the Nampula branch of the Mozambique Tax Authority (AT), all trying to regularise their NUITs.
There was no attempt at social distancing, and the cramped conditions were a clear invitation for the spread of disease. The local AT delegate told STV that the institution planned to implement "measures to avoid crowds", clearly unaware that the government intended to suspend the issuing of NUITs altogether.
As for trade, Kida said that the formal markets remain in operation, but may only function between 00.60 and 17.00. But, if the health authorities warn that any particular market poses a threat of contamination, it may be closed.
The managers of markets must ensure that there is a distance between each of the vendors, and between the vendors and their clients. Failing this, they must insist on the use of face masks.
Buses and minibuses may still operate, but only with one third of the number of passengers which they have the capacity to carry. The owners of vehicles used in passenger transport must guarantee hygiene and safety. If the owner violates these provisions, the vehicle may be seized.
The government has outlawed the use of bicycles and motor-cycles as taxis. Bicycle-taxis are a common phenomenon in some Mozambican cities, particularly Quelimane. Owners of these bicycles protested to STV that carrying passengers was their only source of income, and they did not know how they would feed their families if this is now outlawed.
Kida said the Transport Ministry must "guarantee the essential services to transport people and goods by land, sea or air, and the maintenance and operation of the essential infrastructures".
Kida confirmed the ban on all collective religious services at all places of worship. This did not prevent individual acts of worship or religious services at home, "if there is strict obedience to measures to prevent Covid-19".
A maximum of 20 people may attend a funeral, but they must observe social distancing. In the case of deaths caused by Covid-19, the maximum number of participants is cut to 10. Regardless of the cause of death, all those attending funerals must wear face masks.
Hospital visits are restricted to two people per day for each patient, and patients suffering from Covid-19 may not receive any visitors at all.
Visits are also forbidden to Mozambican prisons, although food may still be delivered to prisoners, if the recipients are disinfected.
Public and private institutions will continue to operate, Kida said, but they must ensure social distancing, frequent washing of hands, disinfection of premises and equipment, and good ventilation. Utensils for personal use must not be shared.
The number of people attending meetings in any institution must not exceed 20 "except in situations that are unavoidable for the functioning of the state". No more than a third of the people normally employed should work in an institution at any one time, and they should work a shift system, with part of the workforce working for 15 days, and the other part for the next 15 days. People should work from home, if possible.
Kida said this provision does not affect public officials in management and leadership positions who will continue to exercise their duties in full.
Kida also announced that the government is requisitioning all doctors, nurses and other health staff who are currently outside the national health service "unless they are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19".
Kida stressed that the mass media, both public and private, will continue to operate during the state of emergency, and should reserve space in their programming for information on Covid-19. The media may reduce the number of staff on their premises "while safeguarding the provision of essential services".
Kida sounded alarm bells among journalists when she threatened that any of the media which transmitted "unreliable" information about the pandemic could lose its licence. When questioned, she said she meant unsourced information.