Lawyers in the lockdown case involving government, church leaders and some civil society organisations have said government has acted cleverly by avoiding the injunction to close down churches.
Initially, government had ordered a ban on religious gatherings, a matter which was challenged in court, but has now reduced the number of people attending religious gatherings to 10.
Wesley Mwafulirwa, a lawyer representing one of the applicants, said his clients are of the view that the reduction of attendees in places of worship is an effective ban of worship.
He said: “By restricting attendance to 10, my clients feel this is the same ban, only that it has been redefined because you can’t think of a Church with just 10 people. My clients are not happy because they needed to be consulted. They feel that government has gone through the backdoor to avoid the injunctive order.”
He said they are also concerned with the fact that government did not provide a notice on the new rules.
“If you remember last time, government announced on a Wednesday that the regulations would be effected on Saturday, and people complained that it was too short, and this time it was even worse. We saw it on social media on Friday evening, and it was effected on Saturday.
“The expectation was that this government would do much better than the previous one,” said Mwafulirwa.
On his part, another lawyer, Khwima Mchizi, said the current rules do not limit the right to liberty as was previously the case, which would have had an effect on economic activities of the citizenry.
He said: “There is no blanket limitation on the right to liberty, except for people wearing a mask and limitations on the number of people in motor vehicles.
“This time, the Attorney General’s chamber has been clever because by limiting the number of participants, the effect might be the same, but legally, you cannot claim that it’s a total ban on religious gatherings.”
Mchizi also wondered how 10 people only are allowed to gather on religious grounds, yet there are other passenger vehicles like buses that carry over 10 people at once.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa, who is also a member of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, has accused government of disregarding the daily struggles of most Malawians in the new Covid-19 preventive measures.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, he described the new measures as a demonstration of the new government’s hypocrisy, saying government should have considered the plight of Malawians.
Reads Nankhumwa’s statement in part: “It is, therefore, ridiculous to expect the same people who can hardly afford a K500 face mask to afford a fine of up to K10 000 for failing to wear one in public.
“As opposition, we expected that government should have done wider consultations with relevant stakeholders on how to enact proper and right framework to fight Covid-19 instead of taking the lone-wolf approach like it has done.”
On Sunday, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi also expressed disappointment over the manner the new guidelines were announced, saying they were not consulted.
However, the Catholic bishops urged their members to strictly adhere to the health and pastoral guidelines to prevent Covid-19 spread.
Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda, who co-chairs the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 alongside Dr John Phuka, said the gazette of Covid-19 rules is not meant to punish Malawians but to help control the pandemic from spreading further.
Cumulatively, by Monday, Malawi had recorded 4,674 cases including 146 deaths. Of these cases, 1 031 are imported infections and 3 643 are locally transmitted.