While the world is still looking for a cure for the coronavirus, a proven and effective method of stopping the spread of disease is by practicing ‘social distancing’.
Social distancing is a set of non-pharmaceutical measures taken to prevent the spread of a contagious disease by maintaining a physical distance between people and so breaking the ‘chain of transmission’ of the disease by reducing physical contact among people.
In Zimbabwe, like in many countries around the world, the authorities have called upon the citizens to practice social distancing. In efforts to further prevent the spread of new infections, the government last Friday called for a nation-wide 21-day lockdown, starting last Monday.
As a result, nearly all businesses and public institutions – except those that offer critical services – have shut down their operations to curtail movement as industry, commerce and business heed the national call to lockdown. Banks and financial institutions have also closed their branches, with many sending messages to their customers informing them that they will be closed for the 21-day duration of the national lockdown.
But with people needing to transact and pay for various essentials goods and items such as food, settling bills and buying critical drugs and medicines, among others things, it could be challenging to totally avoid movement.
Yet despite this drawback, customers will find comfort in that mobile and digital electronic payment systems will be available, and therefore they will still be able to transact while maintaining social distance.
The government has in fact been encouraging this all along. Consequently, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), in support of the government’s set of measures during the 21-day lockdown, has also advised the public that essential banking services will remain available to the transacting public – but largely in the form of electronic transactions and mobile payments.
While all bank branches, agencies, banking halls and bureaux de change were asked to close, the public was assured that it would “continue to have access to mobile banking; RTGS, electronic funds transfers, Point of Sale, mobile money and international receipts and payments”.
The RBZ noted that digital financial transactions would go a long way in enhancing confidence in the economy, and in assisting banks to play a critical role as systemic stabilisers of the economy during these unprecedented times.
At the centre of all digital financial transacting is the EcoCash mobile money platform. The EcoCash platform knows no boundaries as it can be used across different economic sectors – by individual consumers and by corporate organisations.
It is a fact that the Zimbabwean economy has a large informal sector, with the majority of traders and small businesses not owning traditional bank accounts. Yet most, if not all of them, have an EcoCash account that they use to buy and sale goods and products. The same can be said of millions of individuals.
While in the past the level of financial inclusion in Zimbabwe was low, that gap has significantly narrowed, thanks to Ecocash which now serves about 10 million subscribers. What this means at this time of the COVID-19 epidemic, is that transactions, among both formal and informal users, individual and corporate customers alike, can all take place with no human contact between the parties to the transaction.
This is what social distancing is all about. When essential goods and services are being traded or exchanged, physical distancing is still properly maintained for the safety of the entire population.
Even on occasions where there is no swipe machine, but one’s money is in a bank account, that money can still be transferred from bank to wallet on EcoCash and be used to pay for vital necessities. EcoCash also commands the largest agent network in the country along with the widest use by businesses and NGOs.
And in the rare instance that one needs to send money to another mobile electronic platform, EcoCash is fully interoperable with other local mobile money transfer services, giving even greater convenience to its customers, while maintaining social distancing.