By Thupeyo Muleya and Leonard Ncube
It’s all systems go at Beitbridge, Plumtree, Forbes, Chirundu and Victoria Falls border posts after the Government yesterday finalised the legal instrument to operationalise the Cabinet decision to gradually open the port of entries to private passenger vehicles and pedestrians today.
Private passenger vehicles and pedestrians coming or going outside Zimbabwe can use any of the open border posts but have to go through strict testing and screening in line with the ongoing Covid-19 protocols.
Buses are expected to follow in the first quarter of next year but Government will first assess the Covid-19 situation.
Focus today will be more at Plumtree and Beitbridge borders, where before the pandemic seven million and three million travellers respectively passed through annually.
Government Gazetted the Statutory Instrument 282 of 2020 to legalise the Cabinet decision to open the borders for private passenger vehicles and pedestrians with effect from today.
“With effect from the 1st December 2020, all of the ports of entry or ports of exit between Zimbabwe and a neighbouring country or territory shall be opened.
In addition, the entry or exit of goods and of persons through such port or ports shall be permitted subject to the restrictions contained in this Order and to the fallowing additional restriction in respect of persons entering Zimbabwe who are not citizens or returning residents, namely that such persons must, at the port of entry, exhibit a Covid-19-free certificate issued not earlier than the previous 48 hours and not present with symptoms of Covid-19,” reads part of the SI.
Under the new regulations, those travellers with a Covid-19-free certificate issued not earlier than the previous 48 hours shall, if they present with symptoms of Covid-19, be refused entry into Zimbabwe. Travellers who will be Covid-19 free will be allowed passage but they must continue to observe the country’s Covid-19 management protocols to minimise the rate of new infections.
Additionally, the curfew has been maintained to be in force between 10pm and 6am.
Besides the effect of the legal instrument, port authority officials have since concluded operational plans on the ground to ensure a seamless passage for the many travellers who had not been able to move for the last six months.
Officials from the Ministry of Health and Child Care have been testing officials at the border posts for Covid-19 to ensure all workers are fit for duty and new standard operating procedures have been drawn up to guide the handling of travellers under the new normal.
The preparations went a gear up following a meeting between Zimbabwe and South Africa’s Home Affairs Ministers, Kazembe Kazembe and Dr Aaron Motsoaledi in Beitbridge on Friday last week to ensure procedures on both sides of Zimbabwe’s busiest border post were harmonised before the re-opening of the post today.
Yesterday, workmen were busy placing signs to direct visitors on how they are supposed to move around the border post and hand basins for sanitisation had also been placed at strategic places around the immigration halls.
More relief staff for Port Health, Immigration and Customs had been deployed ahead of the border posts opening.
Officials at the border posts said adequate protective clothing and equipment for their workers had been acquired.
It is also understood that those in security services have since been deployed to prevent touts, bogus agents and vendors from entering the border arena.
Meanwhile, in Victoria Falls, Port authorities said yesterday that all was set for re-opening of the border post today.
The country’s tourism capital falls under north Western region in terms of immigration and has Victoria Falls International Airport and four border posts namely Victoria Falls, Kazungula, Pandamatenga and Binga.
Only Victoria Falls is included in the six ports that are reopening today while Kazungula will remain closed and only accessible to trucks and other essential services as has been the norm during the lockdown period.
Kazungula and Victoria Falls are key ports in the country both for cargo and tourists and Victorial Falls border post used to attend to more than 1 000 travellers daily before the Covid-19 outbreak.
Regional Immigration officer for North-Western Region Mr Vincent Mukombero said all protocols have been put in place.
“We are going to open our Victoria Falls border tomorrow and we will be following normal Covid-19 protocols that have been in place which means that the Ministry of Health and Child Care will be guiding us in terms of requirements,” said Mr Mukombero.
“The requirements include a valid passport and PCR negative certificate which is valid for 48 hours of travel and the Ministry of Health will administer that and once they are satisfied, they will refer the person to immigration. For now, what we can say is that all Covid-19 protocols are in place.”
This means that locals who may want to cross to Livingstone in Zambia and the Zambian vendors popularly known as Omzanga would need to be tested prior to crossing the border.
Mr Mukombero said masks and other personal protective equipment were in place while staff was now well versed with the health protocols.
Hwange District Medical Officer Dr Fungai Musinami-Mvura said the port-health facility had been equipped with necessary equipment including two GeneXpert machines at the border post and airport.
“We have been working from the beginning of the year to strengthen our port health and we are ready for our visitors to come through. As you know there is a lot of movement in the border towns which we had missed so much during lockdown,” said Dr Musinami-Mvura. The Chronicle.