The coronavirus pandemic is no longer a public health crisis but an emergency which affects all spheres of life.
Nearly everyone has been affected by Covid-19, the coronavirus disease discovered in China last December.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) promotes multiple strategies to flatten the curve so ensure healthcare systems are not overwhelmed and to give researchers ample time for vaccine trials.
In April, Malawi proposed a nationwide lockdown and ban on public gatherings and non-essential travel, but the stay-at-home measures were challenged in court.
To circumvent the injunction, the government cleverly replaced ‘lockdown’ with ‘a capping limit’ in new measures prescribe funerals of less than 50 people and religious gatherings of less than 10.
The faith community opposed the measures, forcing government to revise the attendance of religious gatherings to 100.
Government imposed these measures to safeguard lives and this is its core duty.
However, the faith community had a point to question the government’s rationale in capping the church gatherings to 10 while markets and bars continue to operate without restrictions.
The clergy have always stepped in whenever they see government overreach on human rights.
So how do we find the right balance to flatten the curve over a period of time while respecting societal norms?
Firstly, any restrictive measure that seems that refer to or resemble lockdowns will not go down well with certain sections of the society.
Malawi is a third world nation still figuring out how to get rid of abject poverty. As President Lazarus Chakwera stated, a lockdown is not attainable because it will hurt the poor and may spark civil strife.
Secondly, when we come up with laws, by-laws and regulations to flatten the Covid-19 infection curve without imposing a nationwide lockdown, enforcement has to be universal.
So far, politicians have taken Covid-19 measures casually.
1. Zero lockdown
WHO lockdowns and our capping are not practical in developing countries like Malawi where many people can barely make ends meet.
The government itself is struggling to provide alternatives and cushion livelihoods of poor Malawians from effects of stay-at-home strategies.
Our economy cannot afford such bailouts. A lockdown will bring our economy to its knees, notwithstanding high unemployment, mental health issues, social norms effects etc.
A wide range of solutions can avert this, including some measures already in practice. They include social distancing, mandatory wearing of face masks, frequently washing hands with soap, improved hygiene, mandatory wearing of surgical gloves and disinfection of public places at approved intervals.
Others include reduction of ferry capacity to 60 percent; mandatory wearing of clear plastic coats of approved standard in public places; installation of disinfection booths at entrance and exits of all public enclosed spaces like churches, bars and halls; proper Covid-19 waste disposal and intensive civic education on all measures.
The rule of law makes everyone equal below the law.
However, US academic Henry Louis Mencken wrote “equality before the law is probably forever unattainable…for what men value in this world is not rights, but privileges.”
When the government draws up measures, they have to be applicable to them as well.
Each government-led public gathering engagement should demonstrate the level of seriousness Covid-19 measures deserve.
They have to set an example by adhering to the measures by the book.
Covid-19 should not be politicised; it is immoral and selfish.