There are mixed reactions to the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 directive to shut down the country’s borders for 14 days to contain further spread of Covid-19.
In an interview yesterday, politician-cum-social and political commentator Humphrey Mvula said the social implications of closing borders were massive because they cut into people’s festive period. He said there was need for wider consultation before making the decision.
On his part, Health and Rights Education Programme (HREP) director Maziko Matemba said while it is a good move to shut down the borders, there is need for government to put resources in communities.
He said: “What is needed is for health authorities to look at how the first strategy was managed and improve where necessary especially for putting more resources at community health level where majority of the community lives.”
But economist Alick Nyasulu yesterday said the task force made the right call to recommend border closures. He said the impact of the decision on the economy is minimal from an import perspective.
Said Nyasulu: “There is no limit to movement of goods through trucks, so we should downplay its impact and besides, economic activity has been low.
“The country is still open to air traffic which in my view mitigates some of the perceived impacts. We are in a long haul globally and until there is global vaccination, we should expect some hints.”
While pointing out that limited infections are crucial in ensuring the health system is still not overwhelmed, he said there is no need to panic since its only two weeks and that most of the country’s trading partners usually close shop during the festive period.
During the media briefing announcing the new measures in Lilongwe on Tuesday, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said only road borders will be closed. Information Gospel Kazako He also said returning residents will be allowed in and that airports will remain open.
When asked to clarify further, the minister, who is the official government spokesperson, s a i d Malawians travelling into the country have no restrictions, further adding that they must have valid original Covid-19 certificates on entry.
He said: “If they will show signs of Covid-19, they will be tested again. Those that will be positive after the tests will be quarantined under very strict conditions to ensure they are monitored.
“Foreigners are not allowed to enter Malawi either by air or by road. We have closed our borders.”
The task force’s decision follows a resurgent of Covid-19 cases in the past 10 days dominated by Malawians returning from South Africa.
The task force also issued a fresh restriction on public gatherings to a maximum of 100. This is a radical shift from the recent review amid “disappearance” of Covid-19 when the gatherings were relaxed up to half the capacity of venues.
The new restrictions have come at a time when, being a festive season, people had planned holiday trips, made accommodation bookings and planned various gatherings including church events.
In August, several groups, including the CCAP General Assembly, Pastors Task Force and Prophetic Ministries, rejected government’s decision to restrict public gatherings to 10.
Barely days after the groups protested, Minister of Heal th Khumbize Chiponda said government had decided to revert the public gatherings to 100 following a meeting with the religious leaders.
Evangelical Association of Malawi secretary general Reverend Francis Mkandawire, who was among the church leaders, yesterday declined to comment on the new measures.
On the other hand, Muslim Association of Malawi’s Sheikh Dinala Chabulika was out of reach while Road Transport Operators Association of Malawi chairperson Abdul Lambat said he needed to follow up on the matter first.
Mean while , prophet Shepherd Bushiri’s Enlightened Gathering Church (ECG), that planned to hold a crossover service at Umodzi Park in Lilongwe on December 31, has resolved to hold the service online following the Covid-19 restrictions.
In a statement released yesterday, ECG spokesperson Ephraim Nyondo said people will be accommodated in an online conference through Zoom Major One Connect.
Malawi reported its first case of Covid-19 on April 2 this year. However, the country did not impose a lockdown as initially planned following a public outcry that culminated in a court order that blocked implementation of a 21-day national lockdown.