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Zimbabwe brings back foreign currencies ahead of coronavirus lockdown

Country enters 21-day lockdown to delay virus spread.
People queue to collect water from a solar powered borehole as the country faces electricity and water outages in Harare, Zimbabwe. Image: Reuters

Zimbabwe legalised the use of foreign currencies in domestic transactions on Sunday, less than a year after abandoning dollarisation, as the country readies for a 21-day lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus, starting at midnight.

The southern African nation has recorded one death from its seven official cases of coronavirus, leading to charges by the opposition and government critics that authorities are under-stating figures. The government denies this.

The central bank on Thursday said it would allow Zimbabweans to use foreign currencies as part of measures to deal with the effects of the coronavirus epidemic.

On Sunday, the government published new exchange control regulations making it legal for Zimbabweans to use electronic and cash foreign currencies when buying local goods.

“Any person may pay for goods and services chargeable in Zimbabwe dollars in foreign currency … at the ruling rate on the date of payment,” a government notice said.

Economic analysts say the move will further weaken the Zimbabwe dollar, which has lost more than half its value since it was brought back last June, ending a decade of dollarisation that helped stabilise the economy.

In the capital Harare, residents packed shops to buy the little they could to stock up for the three-week lockdown.

But in a country where unemployment is above 90% and most people survive by selling goods on the street, residents say they would have to choose between staying at home without anything to eat or risk their health fending for their families on the streets.

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