Last Thursday Kenya reported its first death linked to the coronavirus (Covid-19) that has plagued Africa, killing over 60 people and infecting over 2 400 others in 46 of the continent’s 54 countries within three months.
Two days prior, a 30-year-old Zimbabwean journalist also died ‘helplessly’ at a hospital in Harare (allegedly due to lack of proper health care and respirators) days after returning from America, where he is thought to have contracted the virus.
The first case is particularly interesting because the 66-year-old Kenyan victim died two weeks after arriving in the country on March 13 from South Africa via eSwathini.
So far Kenya, eSwathini, Zimbabwe and South Africa have all confirmed several Covid-19 cases with South Africa topping Africa’s infection rate with almost 1 000 cases.
Ironically, thousands if not millions of Malawians are believed to be living in South Africa mainly for labour and studies. Many more cross-border traders trek there much often just like they do with neighbouring Mozambique and Zambia, which also have few confirmed cases.
Probably Kenyan and Zimbabwean authorities may have detected the fatal cases much earlier before the two individuals that tested positive for Covid-19 had infected many people.
Which brings us to a very regrettable revelation that emerged this week as far as Malawi’s vigilance against any possible intrusion of this infection is concerned.
Amid numerous public service announcements (PSA’s) on Covid-19 through various media outlets, random citizen vigilance interrogations by The Nation revealed that some Malawians are still unaware or partly understand the preventive measures put in place by government to help stem any potential outbreak in the country.
The survey revealed that Covid-19 non-awareness is rampant in Mzimba and Mangochi districts whose communities are well-known for their voracious appetite of kupita ku Joni, where they generally work blue-collar and pink-collar jobs.
The situation is similar in Nkhotakota and Blantyre Rural where some respondents also admitted they either knew nothing or have heard little about this outbreak that has infected over 490 000 people and killed almost 22 000 others globally.
Clearly, this entails that Malawi could pay a higher price of ignorance if (God forbid) the infection spread across our borders. It also spells doom for the country’s disaster response efforts as it implies that most of these public service announcements cannot effectively trickle down to every citizen.
To make matters worse, there are unconfirmed reports of a fresh influx of Malawians who arrived in the country in recent weeks before South Africa activated its 21-day lockdown last Thursday to curb Covid-19 spread.
With such likely scenarios the risk of contamination is still high among Malawians as some of these returnees use unchartered roots between Malawi and South Africa. They might not have undergone proper coronavirus scrutiny and they are potentially silent carriers of the infection.
While we approve of the government’s restrictions in public spaces and other and other extraordinary measures seeking to combat the crisis, we must also remember that government alone cannot contain the outbreak; hence, the need for concerted efforts even from opposition parties.
Politicians must, therefore, desist from politicising these efforts to gain political mileage over competitors as evidence shows that there is still more work to be done to sensitise Malawians, especially rural folks, on the basic preventive measures.
So as the country heads towards fresh elections, let us all understand that coronavirus is not a campaign issue. It is a matter of life and death and it does not spare anyone, including politicians.