Honourable folks, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Thursday projected that Malawi’s economy would grow by six or seven percent in the short-term. That Malawi is set to improve on its modest growth of about 4 percent in the past couple of years should be good news for Malawians yearning for robust growth and improved living standards.
It is nothing short of a miracle that Malawi’s economy is growing at a faster rate than last year, particularly at a time the fund has warned that the global economy is set to recede by over one percent this year following an outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The virus has also posed a serious threat to the industrialised economies prompting, governments there and multilateral organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the United Nations to invest trillions in rescue and relief packages to contain the effects of a potential economic fallout.
The economic disruption the Covid-19 pandemic has caused in the industrialised economies shows just how well Malawi is doing on the economic front. Luckily enough, Malawi has not, as of the time of writing, recorded a case of coronavirus infection. But therein lies the caveat. The IMF cautioned that an outbreak of coronavirus in the country could undermine those growth prospects as pressure from Covid-19 weighs on government expenditure. This is where government should tread carefully. Whatever pressure Capitol Hill might face in relation to coronavirus now is nothing compared to what will come if, God forbid, the country has an outbreak.
At the moment, manufacturing companies are not operating at full capacity after Escom increased its load shedding from four to seven hours. The companies are practically limping as we speak. If the government, which has already closed down schools and banned public gatherings despite having no confirmed case of coronavirus, enforces a lockdown to prevent contagion in the event of an outbreak, these companies will be absolutely crippled. It is hard to imagine how companies in Malawi, most of which are already reeling with unpaid bills and arrears to MRA and other agencies, will cope when they have to send their employees home because of infection and have to keep the rest at home to prevent contagion.
And if push comes to shove, does government have enough fiscal space to provide stimulus and relief packages to keep the companies afloat? It is not like Malawi has a secret stash of government funds where they can pull millions, or trillions in the case of the United States, to help companies stay afloat. It seems the best thing Malawi can do at the moment to avoid an economic downturn is to enhance its measures to prevent coronavirus from making a landfall in Malawi.
However, recent reports in the media show that the country is still a few steps short of implementing measures that can effectively keep coronavirus out of its borders. Apparently, it still business as usual in Malawi’s rural areas, with people gathering en masse for church services and burial ceremonies. Some of them do not even know what coronavirus is, let alone the threat it poses. To compound matters, immigration officers posted on our borders, who are supposed to be the first line of defence against a possible coronavirus invasion, do not have the requisite gear to protect themselves from infection.
Folks, it is an open secret that our healthcare system is not well-equipped to handle a massive outbreak of coronavirus. Ours is a health service that cannot provide proper health-care for people suffering from diseases like malaria and the common cold. If Covid-19 has overwhelmed the best health services on the planet, it will surely devastate ours. And many lives will be lost. Capitol Hill should get its act together and mobilise Malawians to counter this pandemic before it takes root.
For starters, Capital Hill should ensure that there is a steady flow of accurate information from the Ministry of Health, to the District Health Officers and Health Surveillance Officers to ensure that everyone knows how to protect themselves from infection. Second, law enforcement agencies should ensure compliance to precautionary measures set by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Lastly, our enforcement agencies, including the health professionals, police and immigration officers should have the appropriate equipment to protect themselves from infection.
This is a time when prevention is absolutely better than cure. Our lives and economy depend on it.