COURT WATCH 5/2021
[6th February 2021]
High Court Orders Govt to Disseminate Comprehensive Information on Covid-19
High Court judge Justice Mary Dube has ordered the Ministers of Health and Child Care and of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services to disseminate widely “comprehensive and adequate information” on both private and public testing, isolation and treatment of COVID-19.
This follows an urgent application filed by the trustees of MISA Zimbabwe, represented by Harare lawyer Rudo Magundani of Scanlen and Holderness, on the basis that the information being disseminated on the current public health situation in the country is incomplete, uninformative and inadequate.
The Minister of Health and Child Care and the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, were cited as first and second respondents, respectively.
The Ministers opposed the application on the basis that the government was providing “enough information” related to Covid-19 on both mainstream media and social media platforms.
“The respondents have diligently disseminate(d) sufficient and necessary information to safeguard lives and observe the right to information of the general public,” argued Ndavaningi Mangwa, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, in his opposing affidavit.
However, Justice Dube granted the interim relief ordering the Ministers to disseminate information on the occurrence and prevalence of the COVID-19 virus strain 501Y.V2 in Zimbabwe on a regular basis.
Ms Magundani told Veritas that the applicants were happy with the interim relief that they obtained from the High Court. “The interim relief we got is so comprehensive that it may not be necessary to pursue the final order,” she said.
The Provisional Order
The full provisional order is now available on the Veritas website [link].
To summarise it, the respondents were ordered:
- To publish and disseminate on all available platforms, in all official languages, information on the occurrence and prevalence of the COVID-19 virus strain 501Y.V2 in Zimbabwe on a regular basis.
- If found to be existent in Zimbabwe, to communicate the pathology of the COVID-19 virus strain 501Y.V2 as well as measures to be taken by the public in respect of this strain.
- To communicate COVID-19 statistics for each district in Zimbabwe, which statistics should also include gender desegregated data.
- To communicate COVID-19 statistics in relation to immigration and cross-border travel. Such reports should include the number of returning residents received and their COVID-19 status.
- To communicate additional information listing public and private testing and treatment centres, their capacity and current status of occupation or usage.
- To communicate the type and quality of medical equipment and other personnel required, and any further procurements that have been made since the commencement of the current national lock-down on the 3rd January.
The provisional order is effective until the Court sets it aside, which means that the Ministers must obey it unless and until they file opposing affidavits and persuade the Court to set it aside. Normally they would have ten days within which to file their affidavits but by virtue of Practice Direction 3 of 2021 [link] the Court is not accepting papers for filing until the lock-down ends [it is due to end on the 15th February but may be extended]. Hence it is not known if the Ministers will file opposing papers but, as we have said, in the meantime they must comply with the provisional order.