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COVID-19 mandatory tests: Companies in a fix

Cash-strapped Zimbabwean companies are in a fix following the new requirement by the government under level two of the lockdown that employees must be tested for COVID-19.

Information Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister, Monica Mutsvangwa on Sunday night said the reopening of industry and commerce was hinged on compulsory testing of both employees and employers.

To speed-up the process, companies are encouraged to purchase COVID-19 rapid test kits in consultation with the Ministry of Health and Child Care.

Mutsvangwa said employers should arrange with designated testing facilities for their employees to be tested at either the facilities or at their work stations.

Government is currently doing the PCR testing on suspected COVID-19 patients for free and health experts say if they were to charge, it would cost no less than US$100.

The expensive nature of testing explains why the government has been moving at a snail’s pace in carrying out tests.

A Harare businessman said the requirement for employees to be tested would pose a challenge for many corporates reeling from the effects of lockdown and already struggling to pay workers.

“While it is a good idea to have employees tested, that creates challenges for companies that are still trying to find somewhere to place their feet after the lockdown,” said the businessman.

“It may be a challenge for many companies.”

He however said it was difficult to say the government should bear the cost considering, the challenges authorities are also facing.

He said he had not heard of companies that had begun the process adding a number of them were still making enquiries and engaging government oh how to embark on it as they ready themselves to reopen.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Henry Ruzvidzo, also told CITE companies were still awaiting government on the finer details on how the exercise would be rolled-out, with the requirement having been announced only last Friday.

“We are very much concerned with the welfare of employees as well as the need for our businesses to open,” said Ruzvidzo.

Asked on who should bear the cost of the rapid testing exercise, Ruzvidzo said they were of the view that part of the ZWL$18 billion stimulus package for industry announced by President Mnangagwa last week should cover that.

He said the requirement for the employees to be tested meant those workers who had not been working during the previous phrases of the lockdown could not go to work unless tested for COVID-19.

Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe (EMCOZ) president Dr Israel Murefu said employers felt the responsibility to test employees was not theirs.

“We are trying as individual businesses to get quotations from providers of the service to see how much it costs and if it is affordable but many employers are complaining about the additional cost which they believe morally is not theirs although the law is imposing it on them,” said Dr Murefu.

“We have not done a census about who has tested and who has not but I would be surprised if we have many who have tested because no one was ready for this to be honest.”

Some private institutions are reportedly pegging their charges for testing at between US$25 and US$26 per person.

Dr Murefu said employers were running around to see who could do it for them and at what cost adding it was clear many would struggle to afford it.

“Many businesses are not ready to bear the cost as they least expected the cost to be borne by them since there was no consultation that was done around this issue,” bemoaned Dr Murefu.

“EMCOZ feels that since COVID-19 is a national tragedy the state should come in and bear the costs because businesses are already bleeding from the effects of the lockdown and so to bear the cost of wages and salaries plus testing costs is really a huge burden. We believe government should subsidise the cost or carry it since businesses are contributing to the fiscus especially through the 2% tax. Procuring test kits also takes time and the kits may not be available in 14 days especially if one is importing because one has to find the forex first and then import. This may take up to 30 or more days.”

The EMCOZ president argued that morally the cost of testing should not be visited upon the employer saying COVID-19 was a national disaster, therefore in such situations the government authorities should come in, in the same manner they have said they would provide ZWL$18 billion stimulus package.

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