Zimbabwe: Harare Burst Into Life As Business Reopens

Harare (file photo).
2 March 2021

Business is bustling yet again in Harare's Central Business District (CBD) following President Emmerson Mnangagwa's relaxation of a hard lockdown yesterday with most non-essential service providers opening shops for the first time in 44 days.

The country went into a 30-day hard lockdown on January 5 before going into a 2-week extension as cases spiked.

However, a notable decline in COVID-19 cases and zero deaths in recent days prompted the relaxation of lockdown measures.

Businesses have been allowed to reopen, albeit under strict adherence to World Health Organization (WHO) protocols as authorities attempt to manage juggling a fragile economy and saving lives.

Under the new regulations, curfew hours have been restricted to between 10pm and 5.30am, supermarkets to open until 7pm while enforcing social distancing and temperature checks, bottle stores and restaurants open for take away and scrapping of letters for free movement of people.

A snap survey of Harare CBD this morning revealed that most small enterprises notably in downtown opened shop, with most adhering to hand sanitizing measures.

"It feels good to be back again after such a long period operating at home. We are hopeful that sales may get better now that we can reach out to most of our customers once again now that we have re-opened our shop," said one entrepreneur in the television sales business.

As of this morning, traffic into the CBD was evidently higher than it was under lockdown.

While the re-opening of the economy has brought the much needed relief for non-essential service providers, there are concerns around the sustainability of most businesses given the negative impact the lockdown has had on their cashflow.

Among the most affected are restaurants which have endured total loss to business since their closure in March last year.

"Zimbabwe's restaurant trade is teetering on the brink of collapse, following a year of closure or partial operation, and with no end to the crisis in sight... the non-operational or partial-operational status of restaurants since March last year has created a massive problem for the trade and up to half of existing operations are on the brink of permanent closure," the Restaurant Operators' Association of Zimbabwe (ROAZ) said in a statement.

The association president, Bongai Zamchiya said no relief had been given to restaurants, all of which were paying full license fees, despite being closed or only partially open for takeaways.

Last year government announced a $ 18 billion stimulus package which up to now most small and medium enterprises claim they are yet to receive.

Despite this, the reopening of the economy is most likely to save jobs that were on the line due to a prolonged lockdown, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR) said.

"Reopening of bottle stores serving only takeaways is sweet news to imbibers and is very strategic in serving operations of breweries and the more than 20 000 bottle stores across the country whose employees were getting retrenched," said CZR president, Denford Mutashu.

He also urged government to operationalize a stimulus package for the informal sector and SMEs who have been closed for a long time as some used up their capital to keep them going during the lockdown.

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