President Lazarus Chakwera has ruled out the possibility of his administration implementing a 100 percent lockdown in the face of rising cases of coronavirus, but has cancelled Independence Day Anniversary Celebrations today.
In a national address from his private residence in Area 6, Lilongwe monitored on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) television, the President said his inauguration would be a low-key ceremony at Kamuzu Barracks today “strictly by invitation” to 100 dignitaries.
Responding to a question on whether the measures he announced hinted at lockdown, he said: “It should be business unusual. We have to assess what we have done so far. What I have just announced are a series of restrictions, but I must say that we can’t have a 100 percent lockdown because of our subsistence living.
“We can’t have a full lockdown like it has happened in some nations in the East or the West. We just have to ensure that the measures are followed to mitigate against the spread of coronavirus.”
The sentiments by Chakwera, who was sworn-in as the country’s sixth President on June 28 in Lilongwe following his triumph in the court-ordered June 23 presidential election, come against a background of protests against a full lockdown ordered by the administration of president Peter Mutharika in April. Some concerned citizens and civil society groups obtained a court order stopping the lockdown.
Explaining his U-turn after announcing on Saturday that the celebrations would proceed and that the capacity at the venue, Bingu National Stadium, would be trimmed to 20 000, Chakwera said he had received new information that persuaded him to cancel the event altogether.
He said: “By the time I addressed you at the start of the day on Saturday, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases was 1 498. By the time the same day ended, that number stood at 1 613, representing a rise of over seven percent.
“Of the 115 new confirmed cases, 64 percent are local transmissions and they have occurred in all three regions of the country, from the southernmost district of Nsanje to the northernmost district of Chitipa.”
Chakwera said due to the geographical spread of the virus, proceeding with the celebrations could be risky.
He pleaded with those who had already travelled to Lilongwe for the celebrations to understand the situation, saying he appreciated the inconvenience caused, but counted on their “good nature and good sense to see as I do that your health and safety is of paramount importance”.
The President added that financial resources saved from the cancellation would be channelled towards the work of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
Driving the point home in a country where preliminary findings of a joint survey in May by Programme on Governance and Local Development and the Institute for Public Opinion and Research established that 81.7 percent of Malawians were more scared of going hungry than the virus, the President said everyone was at risk of infection by the respiratory infection.
Said Chakwera: “We are all at risk of this infection, everyone of us. That includes you, your children, your spouse, your neighbours and your colleagues at work. It also includes me and the State Vice-President. None of us is immune to infection.”
To stay safe, the President asked Malawians to strengthen measures of hygiene around themselves, their homes and workplaces.
He stressed social distancing measures, reminding people to maintain a one-metre distance, wear face masks in public places, limit visitors and travel besides washing hands with soap at least every hour.
During the briefing, the President also indicated that Minister of Finance Felix Mlusu will soon announce tax exemptions on essential goods critical to people’s hygiene and sanitation.
Health experts have championed institutional quarantine as opposed to self-quarantine employed in the country albeit to no success.
In response to a question on the country’s state of preparedness to fight Covid-19, the President said institutional quarantine was the way to go but the country had no capacity despite resources being provided to facilitate the same. He also said he was yet to get an update on the inventory of 200 ventilators that were set for Malawi to assist in the fight against coronavirus.
On December 31 2019, the World Health Organisation was alerted of several cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. Later, the disease was named coronavirus disease-19 (Covid-19) and the virus was named Sars-COV2.
WHO declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 12 2020 while on March 20 2020, it was declared a National Disaster in Malawi and on April 2 Malawi reported its first three cases.