HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe has reopened its national parks to the public and allowed restaurants to serve food within their premises, some relief for the country's hospitality sector struggling from restrictions to combat the new coronavirus.
The government’s decision, announced by the information minister Monica Mutsvangwa, came amid an outcry from the national parks and private safari lodges that the continued lockdown was endangering both businesses and conservation efforts.
Restaurants will be allowed to serve meals to sit-in customers, but only with limited numbers, Mutsvangwa said.
Like many countries across the globe, Zimbabwe is beginning to open up after a strict lockdown, trying to strike a balance between ensuring public safety and the need to keep alive an already struggling economy.
The southern African country has recorded just under 600 cases by Wednesday.
“We desperately needed to open,” said Tinashe Farawo, spokesman for the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, said.
He said the parks agency had been running on “close to zero” income since the lockdown introduced in March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and was struggling to pay about 2,000 rangers who are vital to combat poaching in the country’s parks, teeming with elephants, lion, hyena, buffalo, zebra and other wildlife.
Zimbabwe’s parks agency largely relies on tourism for income, and has been pushing to be allowed to sell animals such as elephants without “undue restrictions” to foreign zoos to raise money for conservation.
With international travel restrictions, there have been virtually no tourists from North America, Europe or Asian countries that provide most of Zimbabwe’s tourists. The national parks are concentrating on domestic tourism in the meantime, said Farawo.