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COVID-19 Lockdown - What Businesses Have Done

The covid-19 pandemic has affected the entire world. No corner of the world has been spared. To date, over 250 000 deaths have been recorded. We are all aware that the disease was first reported in China’s Huwan City and it spread across the entire world with United States of America recording the highest numbers of infected and deaths. Even close home, South Africa has recorded the highest number of infected and deaths in the region. The decision for lockdown by the Government of Zimbabwe was the right one under the circumstances-save life and sacrifice economy. We saw different governments declaring lockdowns of different magnitude and even in Zimbabwe, we were under lock down for an initial twenty-one days, extended to fourteen and days and another fourteen days, which we are in at the moment. The lockdown affected people differently and the effects ranged from misery to happiness. In any case, where there is disaster, innovators emerge. We have seen most people starting working from home. This was an alien term in developing countries. We read the term before but did not even imagine that this would be practiced in Zimbabwe.

Before I delve into what businesses did, it is also imperative to indicate how employees were affected individually and collectively:

  1. Employment insecurity

  2. Increase in poverty

  3. Hunger of different magnitude

  4. Increase in level of stress

  5. Increase in gender-based violence in residential areas due to extended lockdowns (extended exposure to each other leading to endless quarrels)

  6. Mental health challenges

  7. Long-term unemployment due to lack of productivity for some companies

  8. Disadvantaged children lagging behind in education and unlikely to cope. What was locked down was not examination dates especially international ones

Business Continuity Plan

In order to avoid total collapse of business, captains of industry lobbied the government to relax some of the rules to allow companies in essential service (transport; pharmaceutical companies; beverage, tele-coms etc). The companies were allowed to operate but within guidelines pronounced by the government through Ministry of Health in line with World Health Organization guidelines. It was key for companies to ensure remain operating to meet salaries and wages. It was however, not the same for companies who were not declared essential service providers. These only started opening doors yesterday amid serious confusion on mandatory testing of employees. Such ill-thought-out pronouncement had directed business to procure test-kits so that all employees would be subjected to mandatory testing. This also created unscrupulous suppliers to hike prices of test-kits to as high as USD$20-$100. Business pushed back to government that that they had no such money and that given that coronavirus was a national disaster, it was the mandate of government to meet such an expense not companies. The government listened and relaxed the conditions.

Key consideration for business continuity plan was:

  1. Measures for employees to work from home

  2. Guarantee employee Safety (people issues)

  3. Guarantee Supply Chain to ensure that volume output and revenue streams were realized

On the employee side, the companies emphasized the following practices:

  1. Mandatory temperature testing

  2. Observe social distance

  3. Observe healthcare practices (sanitization)

  4. Mandatory putting on of face-masks

  5. High temperatures to be referred to Ministry of Health

  6. Assist employees to procure groceries

  7. Regular communication with staff so that they are not stressed, frustrated, annoyed and anxious about what will happen

  8. Re-organizing shift structure

  9. Working from for those who can while those who cannot work from home or at work (high risk employees by age or chronic diseases took leave)

The impact of the measures is yet to be realised but what seems very clear is that companies which bonds with its employees in difficult times will come out strong during normal times. What is also certain is that some companies may not be able to retool to the same level and are likely to consider laying off some of the staff. We wait to see how the situation unfolds as we navigate the level 2 lockdown. In the President’s words during second lockdown, “economy can be resuscitated but not life. There have been conferences to revive businesses but not conferences to revive life.”

Article by Dr Philimon Chitagu, who writes in his own individual capacity and the opinions are his.

Chartered HR Practitioner, Executive Coach and President of People Management of Zimbabwe

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