THE Government is still finalising legal instruments to operationalise a recent Cabinet decision for land borders to be opened to vaccinated ordinary travellers, Sunday News has established.
Immigration officials yesterday said they have not been given the green light to allow ordinary travellers to pass through but were still handling essential travellers as before.
Regional Immigration officer-in-charge of Beitbridge Mr Joshua Chibundu told Sunday News yesterday that although they were yet to get the legal instruments in line with the Cabinet decision, they were fully prepared to handle the anticipated high volume of general travellers.
“We are ready to deal with any volume of traffic like we have done before and currently, we are waiting for the standard operating procedures to be complete before the new regulations may kick in.
At the moment it’s business as usual, the travellers are very cautious and we haven’t had any issues with people being turned away for failing to qualify under the essential travellers bracket.
We are hopeful, that soon we will be having a clear position on what needs to be done, but generally everyone is ready to deliver in line with their mandates.”
So far, an average of 2 500 people are crossing the Beitbridge Border Post daily and these are being subjected to tight screening for Covid-19 by health officials. Beitbridge is the only land border that links Zimbabwe and South Africa and the rest of the countries north of the Zambezi River. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the border would handle at least 15 000 people daily and the figure would increase to 35 000 during peak periods.
Matabeleland South Provincial Medical Director Dr Rudo Chikodzore, said last week that they will continue using tight screening and surveillance measures at the ports of entry in line with the set Covid-19 protocols.
“We have been very busy during the lockdown and we are ready to deal with huge volumes of traffic. Adjustments will be made depending on the context of the situation on the ground.
In fact, it’s going to be business as usual for our teams which we beefed up during the lockdowns. These have been dealing with huge volumes of traffic mainly of returning immigrants averaging around 500 daily.”
Cabinet last Tuesday approved the opening of all land borders which have been closed for the general public since the pandemic struck, as a measure to contain the spread of Covid-19. Prior to the latest decision, only commercial cargo.
Zimbabweans with permits to study or work in other countries were allowed to depart via land borders. Already, stakeholders countrywide have lauded the Government’s latest decision. Beitbridge Town Clerk Mr Loud Ramakgapola said, “The opening of the border will help spur the informally dependent economy of Beitbridge. Our town relies heavily on its growth through cross-border trade. The opening of the border is thus very welcome.”
Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) and president of Street Net International, Ms Lorraine Sibanda said the opening of land borders was a positive move for informal traders. She said cross-border trade makes up a large part of the informal economy worldwide.
“For many women working in the informal economy, cross-border trading is a source of livelihood and income. The closure of land borders due to the Covid-19 pandemic took away the opportunity to work and subsequent loss of income for many informal traders and their dependents.”
Meanwhile, bus operators that ply the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route said they have not yet reduced their fares.
Before Covid-19 induced restrictions, the bus operators were charging between R250 and R500 for a one way trip to Johannesburg.
However, when the strict travelling arrangements were introduced the bus operators raised their fares to between R1 000 and R2 000 even for returning citizens who had all the necessary documents.
Operators who spoke to Sunday News yesterday said depending on the volume of business, they will consider new fares once borders start allowing ordinary travellers to pass through.
Announcing the decision to open borders after last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the country took the decision after realising the declining numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
“With a declining testing positivity rate that is indicating that the community transmission has gone down, all ports of entry be reopened but ensuring that all the recommended Covid-19 prevention measures are adhered to,” she said.
In addition, Cabinet resolved that all persons entering Zimbabwe must have undergone a valid Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test not more than 48 hours from the time of their departure for Zimbabwe, and should be fully vaccinated.