As the country continues to battle Covid-19, political parties are dragging on the fight through clear violations of prevention rules and regulations.
During the ongoing campaign for the March 30 elections in seven constituencies and two wards, politicians are ignoring the restriction on public gatherings to 50, there is no physical distancing, not many are wearing masks and hand-washing and sanitising is not adhered to.
Main political parties in the Tonse Alliance administration—Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Alliance for Democracy (Aford), UTM and People’s Party (PP), and opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and United Democratic Front (UDF) are up in arms against the regulations.
As they do this, health experts and the World Health Organisation (WHO) predict catastrophic results owing to lack of investment in the health sector to ably handle such pandemics.
In an interview on Thursday, Health Minister Khumbidze Kandodo Chiponda decried the situation, urging the Malawi Police Service to help in ensuring that the regulations are followed.
She said they have engaged the Centre for Multiparty Democracy, which facilitated an agreement by all political parties to abide by the rules and was hoping for compliance among all players on the matter.
Said Chiponda: “Last week, we had a meeting where the Centre for Multiparty Democracy invited all political parties for a meeting and the task force and they have signed a memorandum to abide by the rules. So, even politicians are not exempted, there is no exemption on Covid-19 rules and regulations.
“If anything, we politicians have lost so much to the same Covid-19. This pandemic doesn’t look at what you do or your status, so nobody is exempted. We expect the police to handle the situation in the same manner. If they are supposed to chase people out of the bar, if they are going to force people, they should do the same.”
But political parties, while admitting that not everybody was following the measures, insisted they were trying their best to follow the rules.
UTM Party spokesperson Frank Mwenifumbo said the meeting, which they had with CMD, helped them to understand better how they can manage campaigns.
He also said UTM Party leader Saulos Chilima has, in some instances, reprimanded party officials who ignore Covid-19 rules during the ongoing campaign.
Said Mwenifumbo: “It appears the rural masses are still lacking in terms of information on Covid-19, so there is need for more sensitisation on this. But for us, we stopped holding rallies in large numbers, restricting them to small groups due to Covid-19.
“I must state here that the leadership of UTM Party, especially the president, Chilima, keeps on reminding us to observe the Covid-19 rules. There are times when he has reprimanded us where he has seen that we are being careless.”
On his part, MCP campaign director Moses Kunkuyu admitted that some people, due to their unfounded beliefs, still do not follow the guidelines despite party officials informing them of the same.
He said MCP has restricted the campaign to buildings so that they easily control the gatherings, but also make provision of face masks to those who do not have them.
“We provide necessary protective equipment to all our officials but also members that come to patronise the meetings. But there are some people who don’t just follow the guidelines.
“We will continue to observe the rules, I know that at this point the campaign has not reached its peak, but even when it gets to that point, we will ensure that these rallies are not vessels for Covid-19,” said Kunkuyu.
Elsewhere, there are pictures of MCP officials and candidates recklessly violating the Covid-19 rules.
For instance, in Lilongwe Msinja South Constituency, MCP candidate Francis Belekanyama has launched a K1 million football bonanza, yet sporting activities remain prohibited.
PP spokesperson Ackson Kalaile Banda, whose party lost Zomba Changalume legislator to Covid-19, said they are following the rules. However, there are pictures of Banda campaigning in Zomba where many people are seen without masks and acting in total disregard of physical distancing.
Argued Banda: “We are one of the affected parties with Covid-19, as you may be aware. So, despite whatever the campaign maybe, we take time to caution our members on the dangers of Covid-19.”
DPP spokesperson Brown Mpinganjira could not be reached for comment. But he earlier said money for the elections should have gone to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, some commentators have decried low investment in the country’s health system and have expressed fear that Malawi cannot ably handle any new wave of Covid-19, given the current status of health infrastructure. They have since proposed improvements in infrastructure, personnel and equipment.
In separate interviews in the wake of a WHO warning of a possibility of third and fourth Covid-19 waves, directors of central hospitals decried continued inadequacy of permanent space and staff. They also bemoaned inadequate equipment such as oxygen concentrators and cylinders.
WHO warned countries against relaxing implementation of measures aimed at controlling the further spread of Covid-19 in the face of vaccines, saying doing so may trigger a new and more catastrophic wave of the pandemic.