The warning from the Presidential Taskforce of Covid-19 that Malawi could be headed for a fourth wave of the pandemic should be of real concern.
The warning should jolt Malawians back into action. People need to revert to compliance with the restrictions put in place to contain the pandemic. In the past months, most sections of Malawians have taken a lax attitude toward the pandemic.
Some commuters have stopped wearing masks when using public transport. To compound matters, some minibuses are taking four passengers per seat, which is above the three required by law, let alone the two prescribed by health authorities.
It is high time people took responsibility for their safety and that of others around them. People should mask up, practice social distancing and periodically wash their hands. Their lives may well depend on it.
Compliance with these measures will be important as we head towards the festive period and the celebrations that come with it. Last year, social events such as weddings, concerts and religious festivals to celebrate Christmas led to the third wave of the pandemic.
Aside from that, health authorities will need to improve the vaccination rate. There has been a slight improvement in recent months, but Malawi is still some way off reaching its targets.
As of the time of writing, Malawi is expected to miss its target of vaccinating at least percent of the population by the end of 2022. Malawi is set to miss that target because of a shortage of vaccines and the public’s apprehension towards the jab.
As of end September, health authorities in Malawi had vaccinated 475 000 people, representing a paltry 4.3 percent of the country’s population. Note that the World Health Organisation (WHO) set a target that required member countries to vaccinate 10 percent of their populations by the end of September.
Put in context, Malawi’s peers in the region had done significantly better in the same period. South Africa had vaccinated 12 percent of the population, Zimbabwe 13 percent and Mozambique 10.66 percent.
The low vaccination rate is a big cause of concern. Earlier this week, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation cautioned that the presence of multiple unvaccinated people in a population would provide a fertile breeding ground for new Covid-19 variants.
It does not bode well for Malawi that the Omicron variant is reportedly driving the fourth wave in South Africa. If it is any comfort to Malawians, the United Nations health agency seems to believe that existing vaccines should work against the Omicron variant.
But some scientists have said that lab tests show that the vaccine can evade the Pfizer vaccine. Fortunately, they believe a booster shot should provide protection against severe illness and death from Covid-19.
Malawi already has three recognised VOCs as classified by the WHO, namely Delta or B.1.617.2 first identified in India, Beta or B.1.351 identified in South Africa and Alpha or B.1.1.7 first diagnosed in the United States of America.
The findings highlight the importance of vaccination. If health authorities are serious about containing the virus, then the government will need to launch a mass vaccination campaign.
Of course, the government would have to step up its game to fight the disinformation that undermined previous campaigns. Some sections of Malawians still believe that the Covid-19 vaccines will make them sterile or, worse, kill them.
Complying with the restrictions and improving the vaccination rate will put Malawi in an excellent position to withstand the fourth wave. God knows Malawi cannot afford to be lurching from one Covid-19 wave into the next.
No one in his right mind can dispute that the coronavirus pandemic has caused economic grief for both the rich and poor. Big businesses in Malawi and beyond are taking financial hits left, right and centre, and some are even facing the risk of bankruptcy.
The education and tourism sectors have been the worst hit by the pandemic. Private schools, hotels, resorts and other tourist hotspots were deprived of their primary source of income when the government restricted public gatherings and travel at the peak of the pandemic.
Granted, the country’s economy and affected sectors appear to be recovering or adjusting to the pandemic, but if the public and health authorities are not careful, the gains made in the last few months may be erased by another outbreak.
Life in the time of Covid-19 cannot be business as usual. That laissez-faire attitude towards Covid-19 restrictions and the public’s apprehension to vaccines could cost Malawi a lot of human lives.