Maputo — Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi on Sunday night announced an extension of the country's state of emergency for a further 30 days.
The state of emergency was introduced to allow the government to take preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease. It took effect on 1 April, initially for just 30 days, but has since been renewed twice.
The state of emergency is now due to expire at midnight on Monday, but the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, meeting in extraordinary session on Monday is expected to ratify Nyusi's decision to extend the state of emergency.
Addressing the nation on Sunday, Nyusi said the purpose of the emergency measures is to delay the peak of the Covid-19 epidemic in Mozambique, and reduce the pressure on the national health system.
Nyusi recognised that "an immense effort" had been made to delay the spread of the disease, "but it has not been enough", and there was now "a general worsening of the situation". In two northern cities, Nampula and Pemba, Covid-19 has shifted from an epidemic with foci of transmission, to the far more dangerous epidemic with community transmission, and Nyusi warned that this could soon happen in Maputo and the neighbouring city of Matola.
The disease has not spared health professionals. Nyusi revealed that 91 health workers had been infected by Covid-19, but 22 have made a full recovery.
He blamed the spread of the coronavirus on the failure of Mozambican citizens to implement to the full the restrictive measures imposed by the government. Despite the health ministry's repeated insistence that people should stay at home, unless they had to travel to work or had other urgent business to attend to, there has been little sign of a reduction in passenger transport, and bus terminals remain crammed.
"Unfortunately there are still those, particularly childen, who insist on going into the streets without any plausible reason", said the President, stressing that avoiding mobility "is an essential condition for defeating this disease".
There were also people who held parties with a large number of guests, violating the rules on social distancing, while others believed that "Covid-19 affects other people, but not them".
Nyusi added that, although Mozambique could take pride in the fact that large numbers of people are now wearing masks and visors, the use of masks was still insufficient, particularly because masks are often worn incorrectly (by covering the mouth, but not the nose, for example).
Furthermore, in many cases people wear masks, not because they understand the scientific reasons for doing so, but because they fear they will be punished by the police, if they do not.
Nyusi was optimistic that it is still not too late to halt the spread of the disease - but that would require every community in the country to respect the preventive measures decreed by the government. In the absence of any vaccine or cure for Covid-19, "prevention remains the only path", he stressed.
The government has decided not to tighten the existing measures, and so there will be no lockdown on the model of South Africa or various European countries.
Instead Nyusi announced a cautious relaxation of some of the restrictions. In particular, schools will re-open, but in a phased way. He promised that the details of this re-opening will be announced in a few days.
The first to re-open will be 12th (pre-university) grade and the teacher training colleges, to be followed by 10th and seventh grades (where pupils are due to sit exams). The third phase will cover the rest of primary and secondary education.
The resumption of classes, Nyusi warned, will depend on the epidemiological situation in the country, or the capacity of educational institutions to comply with preventive measures. This could delay the resumption of classes in some schools.
The Mozambican media have reported on schools that do not have running water and soap, making it impossible to comply with the basic hygiene measure of regular hand washing.
Nyusi said there will be a limited re-opening of the borders to allow specialists, managers and investors into the country, since they are necessary to revive business and tourism. "We shall authorise flights with selected countries on a reciprocal regime", he added.
The government wants markets to be reorganised across the country, said Nyusi, to ensure a distance of 1.5 metres between stalls and between stall holders and their clients. In some cities, notably Maputo and Nampula, this reorganisation is already under way.
Drivers of trucks entering Mozambique must wear masks and visors, said Nyusi, and they will be screened for coronavirus. Their temperature will be measured and they will be tested, if necessary. Trucks, railway wagons and frontier posts must be regularly disinfected.
The Transport Police, Nyusi added, must ensure respect for the disinfection rules, and see that buses and minibuses are not overcrowded.
One significant relaxation is in the area of culture. Museums and galleries may now reopen, but there must be a physical distance of two metres between their visitors. Cinemas and theatres remain closed, and it is still illegal to hold any kind of concert.
Because it is much easier for the coronavirus to spread in closed spaces, rather than in the open air, churches, mosques and other places of worship will remain closed, although Nyusi promised that "we shall gradually assess reopening under safe conditions".
But he warned that "the relaxation of some restrictive measures may be reversed, depending on the evolution of the pandemic in our country".