Despite government gazzeting new rules aimed at preventing the further spread of Covid-19, business remains normal with citizens, funerals and some churches defying the rules and councils not yet enforcing the measures.
Yesterday, the CCAP General Assembly, a group called Pastors Task Force on Covid-19 and the Prophetic Ministries Association of Malawi (Promam) announced that they have rejected government’s decision to restrict religious gatherings to 10 people.
In cities, while some are wearing face masks, others are not; bars and other entertainment places remain open for drinking outside the gazetted hours while some passenger vehicles are still carrying more people than the regulated 60 percent.
Minister of Health Khumbidze Kandodo Chiponda was at pains in an interview yesterday to admit the resistance that the new rules have met. She said government will do everything possible to ensure that people are safe.
Attorney General Chikosa Silungwe, who announced the new rules in Lilongwe on Sunday, said in a separate interview that the responsibility to ensure that the rules are implemented lies with the Ministry of Health.
He said: “First of all, those rules, the person promulgating them is the Minister responsible for public Health. My involvement was only to help with any legal questions that the briefing they had on Sunday may generate.”
According to Article 10 of the gazetted rules, an administrative head of a local government authority (for city, municipal, town or district councils), are the appropriate enforcement officers for the rules.
When contacted, Blantyre City Council spokesperson Anthony Kasunda said they sought clarity from the Ministry of Justice on their role in implementing the rules, adding they will first sensitise people to the same.
He said: “Our first step will be to sensitise people because this should not be taken as punishment, the measures exist to save lives. We need to make people understand why we need to adhere to those measures. We will announce shortly what needs to be done.
“From the Ministry of Justice, we went to seek clarity on what will be our role in the implementation process. We want to know if there will be spot fines, and we have been told that the fines are upon conviction by the courts.”
On her part, Zomba City Council spokesperson Mercy Chaluma said they had a meeting with stakeholders on Monday and agreed to first sensitise the people.
“Without changing anything, we are localising the rules, writing them as a council and we are telling people what we will be doing. We are meeting again on Friday to check progress,” she said.
In Mzuzu, council spokesperson McDonald Gondwe said they expected people to follow the rules to the latter, but admitted so far it is business as usual in the city.
“We hoped that people would start following the rules because they have come from central government, because when we issue the same previously, people defied the rules,” he said, urging people to take responsibility and follow the new rules.
At their meeting yesterday, CCAP General Assembly moderator the Reverend Dr Timothy Nyasulu said they were disturbed by the lack of consultations from government on the new rules.
He said: “We are concerned because we were not consulted. The CCAP General Synod is a big church with three big synods in Malawi. We were just ambushed by this gazetted Covid-19 law and as such, we have agreed to maintain the 100 people per worship service, while following all precautionary measures like wearing masks, using hand sanitisers, soap, and observing social distancing.”
On its part, the Pastors Task Force on Covid 19 led by Bishop Maurice Katema, which also met yesterday, said restricting worship gatherings to 10 people was as good as closing the churches.
Warned the bishop: “Let the government hear this: It’s either you listen to our pleas to gather in large crowds like we do or we will defy the orders and fill the churches this Sunday.”
In a statement, Promam, led by prophets David Mbewe and Justice Hara, also bemoaned the lack of consultations in the new preventive measures.
“Churches might meet in tens or might not meet at all, but so long as all these other places continue to gather without observing any of the measures, our efforts are nothing but a joke,” it reads in part.
On Monday, the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference of Malawi also expressed disappointment on the lack of consultation, but encouraged their followers to strictly adhere to the health guidelines.
Govt admits challenges
Meanwhile, Health Minister Kandodo-Chiponda has acknowledged the resistance, saying there is need for more civic education, and that government will not give up on efforts to ensure that lives are saved.
She said: “In most communities, you still find people that are not wearing masks and are in large groups. This shows the challenges that we have as a ministry as well as a country.”
The minister said people have to embrace the measures and appreciate that they are aimed at protecting them from the deadly cantagion.
“We still have a lot of work to do, and that I accept. We need to do a lot of engagement with the local government and our partners,” admitted Chiponda, who co-chairs the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
She was, however, tongue-tied on whether the resistance means the rules are now on hold.
Said Chiponda: “As a government, you cannot give up because it is our responsibility to give guidance and make policies. If they don’t work, we still have to find ways and means of protecting people’s lives.”
In his daily update on Tuesday, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Dr John Phuka said the country’s Covid-19 data shows that over 85 percent of cases are mild or assymptomatic, hence the need to collectively practise preventive measures.
Among the new rules, individuals are supposed to wear masks in all public areas, failing which, they will be fined K10 000; public gatherings are limited to 10, or face a K100 000 fine and three months imprisonment.
Cumulatively, Malawi had recorded 4 752 cases by yesterday and 152 deaths.