COVID-19: Security personnel at a hotel in Harare-Zimbabwe- awaiting to do temperature checks and sanitise the hands of visitors .Pic by Zimobile 24.3.20

CHURCHES and Information Communication Technologies-ICTs- leaders have called on telcos to reduce the cost of data and an acceleration in the provision of e-learning facilities to allow people and school children to work and study from home-as Covid19 claims one.

Yesterday, the minister of health-Dr Obadiah Moyo-announced the death of one of the two cases of Covid-19. The person- Mr Zororo Makamba- a media personality- died at Wilkins Hospital in Harare.

Hardly a week had passed-Makamba had tweeted that government should create a website to inform the public about Covid19. Over 14 000 people have died worldwide with Italy, China and Spain topping the list of affected countries.

The economic challenges Zimbabwe is facing casts a dark shadow on the telecom companies’ ability to respond accordingly. For now, mobile network operators, the Postal and telecommunications regulatory authority of Zimbabwe-Potraz- could only donate equipment for the national emergence response centre at Parirenyatwa Group of  Hospitals.

Zimbabwe’s economy is sinking deeper into a crisis reflected by the continued depreciation of the local currency on the black market. This has seen many Zimbabweans failing to afford basic needs as the prices of goods and services rise steeply.

There are growing fears that the health infrastructure will not cope if the pandemic is to spread rapidly. Medical practitioners have over the years voiced their concerns over poor working conditions which they state- continue to endanger the lives of patients.

In his address to the nation yesterday, President Mnangagwa promised to intervene and reward health practitioners on the frontline.

In the same realm, calls for hastening of preventive measures including lowering the cost of data to allow people to stay and work from home are growing.

While data tariffs have been on an upward trend, the telcos are unlikely to change position unless if the move is solely on humanitarian grounds or government intervenes with subsidies.

COVID19: Clients queue outside the premises of a local airline in Harare-Zimbabwe. Only one person is allowed to enter to maintain social distance. Pic by Zimobile

Dr Gift Machengete-Potraz director general-during his recent presentation before parliamentary portfolio committee on ICTs said, the regulator is using a cost based tariff to track the cost of providing the service by operators.

That is what the regulator then uses to determine the level of the tariffs which he constantly argue- are the lowest in the region.

“We do that because we do not want them (MNOs) to operate below their costs. If they operate below the costs it means they will close down. It’s a delicate balancing act which we are in” he remarked.

New Measures Announced by Government

  • Returning residents face a 21 day self-quarantine
  • Unnecessary travelling within Zimbabwe prohibitted
  • Visits to gymnasiums, bars, swimming pools, night clubs and sport events prohibited.
  • For hospitals visits-only one person per day is allowed
  • Borders closed with preference given to returning residents and cargo.
  • Health fitness for Covid19 required from inbound travellers from countries with high rate of infection.

Zimbabwe MNOs continue to face viability challenges as their ability to provide efficient services is under threat due to high operating costs. The companies cannot sustain the current operating conditions, for example, running back-up generators due to power shortages.

Nonetheless, the secretary general of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches-Rev Kenneth Mtata is calling for government’s intervention in what he calls “a complex” time.

“The situation we face is dire and complex and requires a comprehensive approach. It cannot be dealt with only as a health matter because it has many implications for many fronts including the economy, the social well-being of people and their livelihoods.

One of the major implications in this current situation is; how people are going to be communicating as we practice social distance? It will require use of mobile phones hence the need to reduce the cost of data” Mtata said.

While this burden cannot be solely taken by the telecom companies-Mtata believe that, “it will also be the responsibility of government to come with subsidies so that people are able to reach out to each other.”

COVID19: Some companies in Harare-Zimbabwe- have employees working from home via Skype. Pic by Zimobile

The request for the lowering of the cost of data is not unique to Zimbabwe.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa-ICASA- requested telecom companies in that country to consider lowering data tariffs to ensure productivity as the pandemic spread.

ICASA cited an increased need for internet connectivity as employees and school children will now have to work and study from home.

“President Mnangagwa announced that schools close early and for people to maintain social distance. Companies with eLearning solutions should rally together with schools and colleges to enable online schooling” said Eng. Jacob Mtisi an ICT expert.

Besides the telecom companies, the Pay TV Licencee- DSTv-is also being urged to provide free channels to keep people well-informed.

For example, “DSTv can open their audio and television bouquets-most particularly news channels- to consumers who are failing to pay for their services due to prohibitive costs so that people get up-to-date information about Covid19” said a Harare resident.


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