GOVERNMENT must immediately suspend or reduce taxes related to data and voice telecommunication services to cushion the social and economic impact of the Coronavirus, says Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ZACCI) president Chabuka Kawesha.

In a statement, Kawesha stated that in the wake of the deadly COVID-19 virus, it was ideal to reduce taxes to data and voice telecommunication services, which in-turn would reduce the cost of services as the business community retreats to operate from residential premises for the next few weeks.

“The wheels of industry have to continue turning, thus, at this critical moment resulting from the pandemic, we have to send our workforce to operate from homes where in many cases, the necessary data access installation is not available other than on handheld devices,” Kawesha stated.

“Airtel, MTN, Zamtel and all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should expect a sharp increase in data usage due to the social distancing and travel delays, thus, an immediate measure government can provide is relief on the cost of the communication services. The private sector, therefore, calls upon government to urgently respond to our appeal and the business community to equally and urgently implement the social distancing directives issued by the State.”

He called on the business community to adhere to government and health experts to suspend all non-essential movement and work from home in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19, now within Zambia, and as we follow the national and global response, ZACCI would like to appeal to its members and the business community at large to respond to the calls by government and health experts to suspend all non-essential movement and isolate or stay and work from home. Our immediate preventive measure to avoid community transmission is social distancing,” Kawesha stated.

“The measures to restrict or reduce movement are unavoidable as we have been guided by the health experts. Social distancing International Best Practices as seen in countries like China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong to name, but a few, have shown that this initiative will limit chances of a high number of cases through community transmission.”

He further called on the government to suspend bar operations immediately and only restrict alcohol purchases to shelf sales to reduce human-to-human contact.

“On the continued operation of bars, markets and minibuses in the usual fashion before the COVID-19 outlook, we would like to caution government to take a different approach. It can’t be business as usual. Suspend bar operations immediately restricting only to shelf sales; clear street vendors and decongest the markets immediately. The sellers can use the many freed up school sports fields as an option with health approved distancing measures and requirements, thereafter, government and local authorities can proceed to announce to the nation, which school fields have marketeers across all districts. Together, we will defeat this pandemic. Let us not wait for the confirmed cases to go beyond three because that may be late with devastating consequences on our young and promising industry,” urged Kawesha.