Mozambique: Bars, Markets and Buses Ignore State of Emergency

(File photo).

Maputo — Anyone who walked through the "Pulmao (lung) of Malhangalene" on Friday would never have guessed that Mozambique was in day three of a state of emergency.

Malhangalene is an inner-Maputo neighbourhood, and the "Pulmao" is an area of small bars and stalls selling drinks, often doing a roaring trade late at night. Under the terms of the state of emergency, in government regulations announced on Thursday, all these bars should have closed, as part of the fight to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease.

But reporters who visited Malhangalene found that the bars were still open and crowded with clients. There was not the slightest attempt to observe any social distancing.

The bar owners and their clients cannot claim that they do not know about Covid-19. Maputo is blanketed with Ministry of Health posters warning about the disease, and specifying the measures needed to halt its transmission. All television and radio stations regularly announce the state of emergency.

Thus, people who crowd into the Malhangelene bars know perfectly well that they could be endangering their own health and that of others. The only gesture in recognition of the state of emergency was that some bars hastily closed when they saw a TV team approaching.

It is the same with Maputo markets. Reporters who visited several municipal markets on Friday found the stallholders behaving as if everything was normal. The government decree stipulates that the stallholders must be at least 1.5 metres distant from each other and from their clients. Alternatively, they can wear face masks.

But there was no sign of any social distancing or of any masks. Some stallholders told the independent television station STV that they could not wear masks, but gave no convincing explanation for this.

Some traders are continuing to sell fruit and vegetables on the pavements outside the markets, where the conditions are even more crowded and unsanitary.

If the stallholders continue to disregard the social distancing rules, they could lose their business altogether. The state of emergency regulations allow the authorities to close down any market which poses a threat to public health.

Many buses and minibuses are also ignoring the state of emergency. To reduce the distance between passengers, the buses must not carry more than a third of their licensed capacity. But many bus drivers have ignored this, and continue to cram as many passengers as possible into their vehicles. At the bus terminal in the outer neighbourhood of Zimpeto, STV saw some vehicles so full that the doors would not close.

The 15 seater minibuses (known as "chapas"), which provide much of Maputo's passenger transport, should now carry no more than five passengers. A good number disregarded the rules, while others pulled their vehicles off the roads, arguing that the limitation on passenger numbers meant the fares they collected could not even cover fuel costs.

The government has banned completely the use of bicycles and motorbikes as taxis, since the distance between the cyclist and his single passenger is nowhere near enough to prevent the transmission of the virus.

The central city of Quelimane is famed for its bicycle-taxis - and on Friday, the cyclists were openly defying the government, saying that they had no source of income other than using their bikes as taxis.

Motorbike-taxis are a common sight in the northern city of Nampula, and here too the cyclists ignored the government decree. Some of them told reporters they were waiting for instructions from Nampula Municipal Council, as if the Council could somehow overrule the central government.

Nampula Council is run by the main opposition party, Renamo, but on the issue of social distancing Renamo does not disagree with the government. Indeed, Renamo has suspended all rallies and other public activities in order to ensure social distancing.

In the case of the cyclists, the motorcyclists, and the market stallholders alike, the argument for disobeying the government rules was always the same - "this is how we earn our living", an argument that could be used to defend any illegal or anti-social activity.

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