Selma Ikela / Festus Nakatana
Government has devised a four-stage response plan aimed at easing the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown that has been in place since 18 April.
The plan, which is still subject to approval by Cabinet, will include allowing businesses to resume operations under strict conditions. President Hage Geingob is expected to announce the way forward following today’s special decision-making Cabinet sitting.
Namibia is currently in Stage 1 of the national lockdown whereby only certain activities are allowed as per the state of emergency Covid-19 regulations.
Under Stage 2, which is likely to follow, the ministerial committee on Covid-19 has recommended that Namibians start wearing face masks when outside their homes and during visits to supermarkets to help limit the spread of coronavirus post the national lockdown. Contact sport will not be allowed under Stage 2.
Economic activity will resume, but with effective social distancing to be enforced. Under this stage, people above 60 years and those with special health conditions will not be allowed at work, but encouraged to practise teleworking for a few weeks. Public gatherings will also be restricted to a maximum of 10 people.
Under Stage 3, there would be a gradual opening of borders to selected countries in the region, while restaurants, bars and hotels will be allowed to reopen under strict social distancing guidelines. Secondary schools and universities will be allowed to resume face-to-face classes, while public gatherings will be restricted to 20 people. The borders would be open for international travel in Stage 4, however, public gatherings would still be restricted as advised on new information available at the time.
“Large gatherings such as sporting events, religious services, concerts and conferences would likely only be permitted once a vaccination or effective treatment is available,” the recommendation made to Cabinet reads.
Opening of schools
On the reopening of schools, Cabinet prefers the option whereby schools would be allowed to follow a quarterly system, opening on 3 August 2020 for face-to-face teaching and learning for both learners and teachers. The suggestion is to end the current academic year on 28 May 2021. This option is being supported because it allows for ample time to prepare school facilities for the implementation of online learning modes, as well as to enable schools to adhere to Covid-19 regulations when classes resume.
An alternative option would be considered if the lockdown is extended beyond 5 May. This will see face-to-face teaching and learning resuming on 3 June 2020 “following a phased-in approach and closing Friday 18 December 2020 for the academic year”. The academic year would still be completed in the current year.
Government imposed a national lockdown on 18 April, banning all unnecessary transport and movement of people throughout the country until 4 May to combat the further spread of Covid-19. Since the announcement of the national lockdown, Namibia has not recorded any Covid-19 confirmed cases. In fact, eight people have fully recovered, while the remaining active cases are reportedly stable and not showing symptoms of Covid-19.
Information minister Peya Mushelenga yesterday briefed the nation on the latest Cabinet decisions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, including an account on the implementation of the economic and relief package initiated by government.
According to Mushelenga, over 801 000 applications were received for the emergency income grant of N$750. However, thus far, only 346 135 applicants were paid, while 40 788 are currently being processed for payment. Both payments translate to about N$290 million. He said about 134 000 applications have been rejected.
Mushelenga also announced that government has approved in principle a relief and stimulus package offered by Agribank to assist farmers affected by Covid-19. The package includes instalment relief for up to 12 months, interest rate relief, ITC de-listing and putting on hold pending legal or pre-legal action.
Agribank will also extend new stimulus loans to enable farmers to diversify income streams.
Government, according to the latest Cabinet briefing, has thus far settled invoices worth N$2.5 billion for Covid-19 related supplies, while N$1.3 billion has been paid towards settling outstanding value added tax (VAT) refunds.
Government has also approved N$100 million for the distribution of water in informal settlements and communities around the country.
“Cabinet directed the Ministry of Public Enterprises to expedite the finalisation of the subsidy package, in consultation with NamWater, NamPower and the Electricity Control Board.”
The finance ministry and the Development Bank of Namibia have also been directed to expedite the finalisation of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) Assistance Loan Scheme modalities for Cabinet’s approval and consideration.