Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Thursday night announced the extension of the state of emergency, decreed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, for a further month.
The state of emergency initially took effect on 1 April for 30 days. It was then extended to 30 May. The second extension runs from 31 May to 30 June. There can be no third extension, since the Constitution limits a state of emergency to a maximum of 90 days.
Addressing the nation, Nyusi recalled that the first case of Covid-19 in Mozambique was diagnosed on 22 March, and when the state of emergency was declared, there were only eight known cases, and no deaths.
When the state of emergency was extended, on 29 April, there were 76 cases and still no deaths. Furthermore, the cases were in just three provinces - Cabo Delgado, Maputo City and Maputo province.
But now there are 233 cases, and two people have died from the disease, which has spread to all 11 provinces. Nyusi blamed this spread on the failure to observe preventive measures.
The restrictions imposed by the government, he said, were intended to hold back the progression of the pandemic, reduce Covid-19 morbidity and mortality, and avoid any collapse of the national health system.
The alternative, he warned, was that even tougher measures would become necessary, such as a total lockdown, as has been imposed in South Africa and several European countries. The government did not want to take such a step "because of its serious social and economic impacts".
Nyusi said that, although all schools are closed, children are still not obeying the instruction to stay at home, but are going into the streets and markets, where they risk contamination. Buses and minibuses are still overcrowded (even though the passengers are now wearing face masks). At transport terminals there was still little sign of social distancing - and Nyusi stressed the need for a minimum distance of at least 1.5 metres between people in transport queues.
The rules for social distancing were also disregarded in informal markets, and there were clandestine efforts to reopen bars and stalls where alcoholic drinks are sold.
Nyusi stressed "it is our responsibility to learn how to live with the coronavirus in the coming period, while efforts are made internationally to find a vaccine for this disease". The government's restrictive measures "do not seek to do away with Covid-19, but to control its spread, and avoid us having to move into a lockdown".
Under the renewed state of emergency, he said, it was imperative to obey the rules on social distancing, to wear masks in public places, and to obey 14 day periods of home quarantine, in the case of all people entering Mozambique, and all those who have been in direct contact with confirmed Covid-19 cases.
Movement within Mozambique should be limited as far as possible. Nyusi did not, however, suggest an outright ban on travel between provinces and districts. But he did call on the police to step up "massive monitoring in all spaces to ensure compliance with the preventive measures".
Control over Mozambique's borders will be tightened, he promised, and in some cases "entries will be limited".
As for lifting the emergency measures, Nyusi said the Scientific and Technical Commission advising the government will reflect on the best moment to re-open schools, particularly for those grades about to face exams.
The government will also assess whether specialists and technical staff stranded outside the country because of the emergency measures can now return.
More sweeping measures, such as the full reopening of the land, sea and air borders to the transport of people and goods "will be studied depending on the trend of the Covid-19 pandemic in Mozambique", added Nyusi.
As for the sale of alcoholic drinks, Nyusi said two very different paths could be studied - "time will tell whether it is worthwhile continuing to allow the sale of alcohol at the weekends, or if the time has come to extend the opening hours of restaurants and bottle stores".
"Everything depends on us", he concluded, "it depends on us observing measures of prevention, it depends on changes in our life style, and it depends on our discipline".
But for the time being, the main message, the President declared, would remain "Stay at home!", since the coronavirus does not move on its own, but depends on people to transport it from place to place.