Malawi: On Coronavirus - Malawi Unite, Get Ready, Prevention Is Better Than Cure

27 March 2020
opinion

He went out to meet Asa and said to him, "Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. -- 2 Chronicles 15:2

Since the world learned about the Coronavirus, a flu-like virus that has spread like a wild forest fire throughout the world, and killed staggering numbers of people, causing the WHO to call it a pandemic, there are two leaders that are causing eyebrows to rise; on a daily basis. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly contradicted his own panel of health experts, throwing the nation of 300 million-plus people to rely more on local authorities for answers than hear from him. He has shown a propensity to be more interested in saving the economy than the people afflicted or at risk of being infected with the virus.

MCP presidential hopeful Lazarus Chakwera and Mrs Mary Chilima, wife to State Vice-President greet each other with an elbow bump as Covid-19 alternative way of greeting that still carry the same level of warmth and politeness.-Photo by Govati Nyirenda, Mana

In Malawi, Malawians stopped holding their breath in order to hear from President Mutharika speak on the killer disease. Like his US counterpart, Mutharika has other priorities like the forthcoming rerun of the Presidential elections. Both scenarios are leaving citizens to cry out for help from the local government or private organizations, and many times find their own localized solutions to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

An endearing two-minute video by UTM President VP Saulos Chilima, on social media, shows him going through the motions of handwashing.

While appreciating the attempts so far, by the Ministry of Health, opposition leaders, and civic organizations, it is vital to watch and see how others, like South Africa, are reacting and putting in place strategies in fighting the pandemic. Remember, that a stitch in time, saves nine.

In its attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, southern African community economic giant, South Africa is in total lockdown mode, while shouting in one voice Nkosi Sikelela Africa, and with one desire, to save South Africa.

This is what a Presidential Committee on Coronavirus pandemic outlines when tasked to draw strategies for dealing with the pandemic. Among the impressive outline of the to-do list are:

All persons should NOT leave their homes from midnight 23rd March 2020 unless under strict guidance;

From 26 March to 21st April Total lockdown in SA except for essential service staff.

All shops to be closed except crucial essential ones.

SANDF deployed to support the Police to enforce lockdown.

Screening increased. Testing in all high-density areas.

Emergency water supplies being provided to such areas.

All SA citizens arriving automatically quarantined.

All international arrivals confined to their Hotels for 14 days.

Economic interventions

Support to vulnerable. Solidarity Fund to support the vulnerable. Government to commence with 150-rand million seed capital. Two families already have contributed 2 billion rands.

Government bans price hikes and predatory pricing.

Safety net created to support SME's whose businesses will shut down.

Old age and pension grants will be made available for collection from 20th April.

Special help to companies under consideration for employees to be paid and that there is no loss of jobs.

Companies on recess should continue to pay workers.

Tax subsidy for low-wage earners; targets 4 million employees.

Tax compliant organizations allowed to delay TAX payments for four months.

These various initiatives will assist companies and help employees.

Be courageous

Show solidarity and compassion

We shall prevail

This is a marvelous list. While the Malawi Government, opposition parties, and the private sector are applauded for the work done in anticipation for the out outbreak, this all appears to be done haphazardly, in disjointed and on all sides, politicized manner.

Malawi needs the lead voice to come up and speak to Malawians. This is not a press statement, nor one made by his minions. The head of state, President Mutharika, must come up and speak to Malawians. Secondly, there needs to be the slightest semblance of unity in combatting the virus: Covid-19 is colorblind, it does not see political affiliations, and it does not favor any country or region - it is virtually all over the map.

If the border is to be closed, now is the time to deploy the military to our borders. Now is not the time to change or beef up the ranks with supporters. The military may also be used to ensure that quarantined persons abide by the guidelines.

In social media posts, and an interview of former President Dr. Joyce Banda gave show concerns about countrywide cross-border traders and hawkers, who risk losing their livelihoods because of closed borders and forced to stay home. These are genuine concerns, just are the concerns of companies and businesses that will close but will have to continue paying their workers. The government may have to borrow the Bingu wa Mutharika model used during the famous universal farm input subsidies.

The Coronavirus is a health issue; since up to this point, Malawi has fortunately not yet registered a Coronavirus positive person, it is highly advisable, because of the erratic and unpredictable nature of the virus, for Malawians to treat everyone as if they have the virus. Among the things to do as the Health Ministry officials have been advising, is that of observing hygiene protocols of washing hands frequent (Water Boards and water kiosks operators could consider either reducing costs or hold off on closing supplies for non-payment). Social distancing and avoid crowds and all non-essential travel must be part of the new normal for Malawians.

Malawi's health facilities do not have the capacity to meet the current health needs of Malawians. The pandemic, as Dr. Banda points out, would be catastrophic for the country. She visited a hospital this week and found that an ICU ward, two children were forced to share one ventilator needed to sustain their lives. This would be disastrous during an outbreak of the pandemic.

In our local perspective, we can add two more to-dos: release the domestic workers to go on paid leave. The government could consider releasing non-dangerous criminals, to ease congestion, and prevent figures rising in prisons.

In conclusion, please all political sides, should stop politicizing the pandemic; this is the time Malawi must unite to fight the pandemic, stop its spread, and help every person that is tested positive and needs treatment.

The President must give the nation daily corona updates - with health experts and other stakeholders. Dissolve the MEC; the chair and commissioners must be removed and quickly institute a new and credible one as stipulated in the Constitution.

In the precarious situation we find ourselves in, the President must, while exercising his duties, must stop making decisions such as changing of central Constitutional entities as the Army Commander.

The Ministry of Health must provide all essential information on testing areas, telephone numbers to all stakeholders, such as all political parties, and civic and private sector captains.

Malawians, let us remain calm, be wise, and show solidarity and compassion. Malawi shall prevail through this!

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