Until four or so weeks ago, business was normal in Malawi and most countries in the world as coronavirus cases had almost stabilised after the initial wave.
For Malawi, the Covid-19 cases worsened after the festive season when there was mass disregard of public health guidelines to prevent further spread of the virus. >From churches to players in the art sector, everyone was busy with ‘crossovers’ in form of either prayers or music performances all courtesy of a court order obtained by some ‘concerned’ musicians against enforcement of the public health guidelines.
From less than 120 active cases in mid-December, the country now has 3 084 active cases of Covid-19 while the cumulative death toll has reached 254, including a record 19 reported at the time of writing this article on Tuesday evening. For the record, between January 1 and 12, the country recorded 50 Covid-19 deaths, including two Cabinet ministers Mohammad Sidik Mia (Transport and Public Works) and Lingson Belekanyama (Local Government).
Worth noting is that the virus that causes Covid-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to multiple sources, including the World Health Organisation.
People with Covid-19 show a wide range of symptoms from mild symptoms to severe illness. The symptoms may appear between two and 14 days, according to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
CDC cites Covid-19 symptoms as including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhoea.
Ever since the WHO declared Covid-19 a global pandemic on March 12 2020, life has never been the same. Most businesses have either scaled down or totally shut down with millions of jobs globally lost. More jobs are still under threat. Millions are suffering as their economic lifelines are virtually cut.
Perhaps one major lesson from the coronavirus pandemic and its impact is that business or life can proceed without physical interaction. The world has gone digital. Besides, employees can work from home while meetings can be held online i.e Internet access data permitting (#DataMustFall) via Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype and even WhatsApp calls (both voice and video).
The pandemic has also enhanced digital or electronic commerce (e-commerce) culture. With travel restrictions, e-commerce has filled the gap as businesses and individuals alike can now place orders and make payments online using digital platforms provided by commercial banks worldwide.
Malawi is yet to fully embrace e-commerce and a recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) report makes sad reading. The report largely attributes the situation to limited information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure.
In terms of telephone penetration, the Unctad report says Malawi’s mobile phone subscription stood at about 42 out of every 100 people, which is way below the Africa average of 74 percent.
From the report, one learns that only 14 people out of every 100 in Malawi have access or use the Internet. This means that Malawi is generally a “mobile-only connection” country. Even on social media platforms, connectivity is low as, according to ICT Association of Malawi there are 500 000 Facebook users in Malawi compared to two million in neighbouring Zambia.
But it is not all gloom for Malawi in terms of digital world as the financial services sector, telecommunications and several others have fully embraced technology and the innovations are doing wonders.
While we still have a long way to fully embrace ICT and e-commerce, mostly due to the high tariffs, the innovations in the financial and telecommunications sectors are worth celebrating.
On a positive note, commercial banks have overcome the ICT infrastructure challenges to provide electronic and mobile banking solutions such as Mo626 from National Bank of Malawi plc, Eazy Mobile from NBS Bank plc, Standard Bank Malawi plc’s 247 Moments and FDH Bank plc’s range of mobile banking services.
The future is digital and I see digital transactions dominating across the board. Malawi just needs to up the game, knock down the tariffs and bridge the gap.
Embrace digital payments and transactions in general. Stay safe from Covid-19.
Protect yourself. Protect others, wear a face mask in public spaces, observe social distancing, regularly use hand sanitiser (where available) or wash your hands with water and soap.