- APM bans public gatherings
- Schools to close from Monday
- K15 billion to tackle crisis
As the possibility of coronavirus reaching Malawi is becoming obvious, President Peter Mutharika on Friday banned public gatherings and ordered closure of schools as part of drastic measures to cut densification.
The President went on to declare a State of Disaster and set up a K15 billion fund to deal with the crisis.
Mutharika justified the new measures, saying despite government commitment and donor support, there was still a gap.
“The aim is to prevent coronavirus from being transmitted into Malawi and also to prepare the country to handle any case should a coronavirus case be diagnosed,” he said in a televised speech monitored on State-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) radio.
The President said new measures to come into force on Monday, March 23, include a restriction of public gatherings of more than 100 people and closure of all schools, colleges and universities.
These restrictions apply to all gatherings including weddings, funerals, church, congregations, rallies, government meetings.
He emphasised that the national security apparatus has been ordered into action to enforce the restrictions.
Mutharika has also suspended hosting of international meetings and banned public servants from attending both regional and international meetings being hosted by affected countries.
The new measures also include a travel ban for foreign nationals from countries highly affected by coronavirus disease. However, Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) countries are exempted.
Health activist Maziko Matemba said the way government has responded to the outbreak has been slow as emphasis has been at high level while the systems at lower level have been weak and uncoordinated.
The Society of Medical Doctors (SMD) president Amos Nyakaon Friday welcomed Mutharika’s policy direction, describing it as being in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.
“We really needed to have such commitment from the land’s highest leadership. It is also our understanding and appreciation of WHO recommendation that in terms of fighting Covid-19, there must be political leadership as well as technical competences.
“With such an arrangement it will now be fair for all the relevant government departments and other stakeholders to work together and ensure we keep our people safe,” he said.
But health rights activist George Jobe, who is also president of Universal Health Coverage Coalition (UHCC) in Malawi, said there is still need for more awareness campaigns to prevent locals from contracting Covid-19.
While governance expert Makhumbo Munthali said the declaration of national disaster needs not be open-ended.
“It needs to be time-bound, and a mechanism to monitor impact within the time-frame. The present one looks like it has no time limit, thus threatening even the functionality of our economy and our systems,” he said.
Officials in the Ministry of Health and Population have since said they are continuing with redeployment of health personnel to all border posts.
This is in addition to the screening for coronavirus on all travellers arriving in Malawi through the country’s borders and international airports.Opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP) spokesperson the Reverend Maurice Munthali commended Mutharika for taking action on the crisis, saying his party has always been concerned with the welfare of the people.
“The statement from the President in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak was expected. However, Malawians need to be updated on the magnitude of the threat the coronavirus is exerting on our nation.
“They have the right to know all the information surrounding the pandemic at local level so that the declaration of a State of Disaster is justified,” he said.
For the past week, Mutharika has taken the flak for slow response to the outbreak, a situation which forced some institutions to take drastic measures to cut densification.
For instance, a number of local institutions and government departments announced their own preventive guidelines in the absence of national inclusive guideline from.
College of Medicine (CoM) set the pace in issuing a partial lockdown by delaying the opening after a mid-semester break by three weeks from Monday, March 23.
Another college, the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar), had also banned students and staff from travelling outside the country and warned that it would not allow foreign visitors coming from countries suspected to have cases of coronavirus.
The coronavirus was first reported in the city of Wuhan in China on 31 December 2019. Within the past three months the virus has spread at a fast rate in Europe, Canada, the United States and sAfrica. Some of the affected African countries are within Malawi’s proximity such as South Africa.
So far, Zambia on the western border and Tanzania in the north and other key trading partners in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc), have confirmed a case or more of coronavirus which causes a disease the WHO has named Covid-19.
As of Friday the pandemic had claimed 8 778 lives and over 200 000 have been confirmed infected globally. n
—Additional reporting by Lucky Mkandawire and Fatsani Gunya