Checks with port authorities at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo, the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in Harare and Beitbridge border post revealed that visitors and returning residents were still being allowed to proceed home, instead of being taken to quarantine facilities for 10 days as decreed by Mnangagwa on Tuesday.
Those presenting negative Covid-19 test certificates were not forced to undergo mandatory PCR tests on arrival either, it was established.
“We’re still waiting for guidelines to be properly disseminated to the ground. You need PCR machines in place, you need health workers in place, you need the quarantine facilities in place, you need transport in place and there must be security – this is all taking a bit long and until such time we are ready, our duty is to facilitate the free movement of people within existing regulations,” an airport official in Harare said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Compounding the problems is that those arriving without money for quarantine are to be handed over to the social welfare department which previously used schools and college buildings during a lockdown last year. With schools and colleges currently open, and the department seriously underfunded, officials say it could take days more for the government to source food and accommodation.
President Mnangagwa said all visitors and returning residents arriving at the country’s ports would be compelled to undergo a US$60 PCR test at their own cost, and must spend 10 days in a quarantine facility. The measures were with immediate effect and would be reviewed on December 13, he said during a televised address on Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement caused thousands of Zimbabweans planning their trips home for the Christmas holidays to reconsider their plans.
The government did not publish a statutory instrument to make Mnangagwa’s directive law until after midday on Wednesday, as border officials continued to allow Zimbabweans through. Even after the regulations were published, there was no preparedness to immediately implement the mammoth task of quarantining thousands of travellers, which many civil servants in health and immigration believe will be impossible to carry out.
At Beitbridge, police and immigration departments are reportedly concerned the directive will fuel illegal border crossings and possibly lead to massive congestion and crime.
“There’s little appetite for implementing this. Let’s hope sanity will prevail soon,” one senior police officer said.
Confusion spread on Wednesday after a passenger circulated a piece of paper on social media written: “One traveller. To quarantine centre.” Border officials have told ZimLive that the particular traveller tested positive for Covid-19 and could not be allowed to go home under existing rules.
Zimbabwe’s drastic measures are out of step with the regional response to the detection of the new variant by South African scientists last week. Officials so far say there is no evidence that Omicron is any more virulent than existing coronavirus strains.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance said Mnangagwa’s tough new measures were not based on science, and advised him to reverse them.
“Section 68 of the Constitution requires the government to make lawful, reasonable and fair administrative decisions. Making different quarantine rules for different people, not basing decisions on science and imposing inefficient systems on the citizenry does not meet this constitutional standard,” spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said.
She added: “Imposing unscientific, irrational, outmoded quarantine rules which apply to us and not them is a slap in the face to the tourism industry and effectively means our borders are closed. Who will travel to Zimbabwe under these conditions?”