by Werner Menges

THE spreading of fake news about the new coronavirus and Covid-19 is now a crime in Namibia, following an amendment to the Covid-19 state of emergency regulations.

In terms of amendments to the regulations, published in the Government Gazette on Friday, people publishing any false or misleading statement in connection with the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), including on social media, are committing an offence for which they can be fined up to N$2 000 or be given a prison term of up to six months.

It is also now an offence to publish any statement in the media, including on social media, that is intended to deceive people about the Covid-19 status of someone or about measures to combat, prevent and suppress the coronavirus disease, the changed regulations state.

The newly published regulations expand the lockdown that had been applied to the Khomas and Erongo regions since 28 March, by including all of the country under the lockdown, which prohibits travelling over certain regional boundaries.

The amended regulations divide the country into 10 zones, with no travel across the boundaries of each zone allowed from 18 April until the end of the extended lockdown period on 5 May.

The separate zones are the Khomas region, together with the local authority areas of Rehoboth and Okahandja; the Erongo region; the //Kharas region; Hardap; Kunene; Zambezi; the two Kavango regions; Otjozondjupa and Omaheke as one zone; Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto as one zone; and Omusati.

People needing to travel over the boundaries of the designated zones would need to be certified as critical or necessary service providers or would have to obtain a permit allowing them to travel across the zone’s boundaries.

On the economic front, the amended regulations include mining and fishing among “critical services” allowed to continue during the country’s state of emergency in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the initial state of emergency regulations, only maintenance related to fishing and mining activities was classified as critical services, with the effect that fishing and mining in Namibia were brought to a standstill over the past three weeks.

The changes to the regulations also loosen the restrictions on the operations of open markets and informal traders that had been applying over the past three weeks. Open markets and informal traders selling essential goods or providing critical services will now no longer be prohibited from doing business.

While the amended regulations broaden the prohibition of trading in alcohol by forbidding the purchase of liquor, it at the same time now excludes drinks with an alcohol content of less than 3% by volume – such as light beer – from that prohibition. In the first state of emergency regulations, published on 28 March, only the selling of alcohol was prohibited, with no distinction made with regard to the alcohol content of drinks classified as liquor.

The amended regulations further allow authorised officers to seize any liquor that is suspected to have been sold or bought in contravention of the regulations, without needing a seizure warrant to do so.

A contravention of the regulation forbidding trade in alcoholic drinks containing 3% or more alcohol by volume can attract a fine of up to N$2 000 or a period of imprisonment for up to six months.

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