Professor Dr Joyce Befu, our head and leader of delegation, has ordered that we join government in ensuring that Malawians are fully informed about state of the Coronavirus Disease (Covid-19) in Malawi. Once a week we should be reporting back to her and the country.
This week we report that except for a few, perhaps just three dissenting and one reclusive, world leaders are united in their fight against the Coronavirus Disease.
When it was first announced in China, many of us thought that it was a Chinese problem that would end in China because the Chinese would quickly and expertly contain it. Some African preachers, no doubt feeling safe, took it lightly, quoting Biblical verses out of context.
However, before the dissenting preachers and leaders finished their statements, the virus was all over Europe and had started descending towards Africa. As we write, over 340 000 people have been diagnosed with the virus; over 14 000 have died and the rest still receiving medication in different parts of the world.
So far, we, Malawians, have been spared. Officially, out of the 700 persons that were being monitored in the first week after the declaration of the state of national disaster and ten tested, none had tested positive for the deadly virus.
Nevertheless, this situation does not mean that we are safe at all. Far from it. If South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania have people with coronavirus, it is very likely that Malawi should because these are people we often interact with as we conduct our small businesses and other survival acts, pray and mourn together with.
Last week we proposed that Ooriheya Peter Arthur Mutharika (oPAM) should personally lead the anti-coronavirus effort and we are pleased to report that soon after his declaration of the State of National Disaster, Malawians have responded positively. The Ministry of Health has come up with a robust public awareness programme coupled with border patrols.
The media have responded graciously with public service advertisement (PSAs) providing information and busting myths; traditional chiefs and some cultural and heritage institutions are localising the language of the anti-coronavirus campaigns to ensure that their people understand more clearly; businesses including bottle stores which have for long operated without sanitation facilities have installed hand washing and sanitisation points, and political parties have taken up the challenge to sensitise their followers. The public, too, has responded positively.
In almost all public places, we have seen people washing their hands, seriously, with soap freely (?) provided by the owners of the public places. In places of worship and in meeting venues, social distancing is being adhered to. The only meeting we saw that defied the social distancing imperative was the MEC News Conference held last week where journalists were seen sitting shoulder to shoulder. Even the ‘incompetent commissioners’ did not bother to observe oPAM’s directive on social distancing.
So far so good. And praise God for that.
Now, should the situation worsen, are we ready? Unless we have been under informed, Malawi has only two coronavirus testing centres (one in Lilongwe; one in Blantyre and, as expected, nil in Mzuzu). Is this enough for a country of over 18 million ever-mobile citizens?
Do we have enough bed space in hospitals, medical suits for doctors and other health workers, and equipment to assist patients in breathing? Do we have enough street spraying equipment and medicines? Do the hospitals have backup power plants (and fuel) to keep the oxygen equipment functioning in intensive care units?