Last week, President Peter Mutharika and chairperson for the Special Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 Jappie Mhango announced the country was going into a 21-day lockdown to minimise the spread of the novel virus.
As soon as the announcement was made, pandemonium broke, as some Malawians felt a lockdown painted death. People went on the streets in various districts and cities to show their dismay since 21 days meant no economic activity, and survive on eat-as-you-earn basis.
Those going on the streets wanted government to outline what cushions would be put in place so that people on the streets could face a lesser pinch of the lockdown.
Last Friday, a day before the lockdown came into effect, two citizens Esther Kathumba and Monica Chang’anamuno, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and the Church and Society Programme of the Livingstonia obtained a seven-day stay order stopping government from effecting the shutdown. High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda granted the injunction, with a footnote that an ex partes hearing on the expiry of seven days.
But before the matter went back to court yesterday, the Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale, who was representing the defendants, President Peter Mutharika, Ministry of Health, Inspector General of Police and the Commander in Chief of the Malawi Defence Force, filed to the courts that the defendants would not challenge the lockdown injunction.
Others have argued that by not contesting the injunction, government was playing its card that should the virus take its toll on Malawians, they would sit back and say: ‘There, we told you so. You said no to a lockdown, look how you are dying’. Naive as that line of thinking maybe, it can’t be dismissed just like that. From the dialogue in some quarters, it is clear that ruling party proponents have been toeing the ‘we told you so’ line as positive cases rose from 23 to 33 by Thursday and the death toll rose to three from two.
Before the dust could settle, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and its electoral partner UTM Party on Thursday issued a release declaring government had not yet stated if it would provide supplies to Malawians to survive the lockdown; there was no support for health workers on the frontline; there were no measures to control cross-border spread, among other things.
On this part, I feel the opposition and civil society line of thinking is also based on the premise that should the lockdown come into effect, and people revolt, with some being killed or injured in the process, they would say: ‘See, we told you so’.
Both sides are right. They all have valid points on the lockdown. They both agree on one principle: Malawi needs a lockdown. Where they differ is how do we arrive at the shutdown.
The antagonism from both sides is uncalled for. It is pathetic that this matter is being policised from both fronts. How one would score political points from this public health quandary is so baffling.
As the virus continues to spread exponentially, it is even heart-rending that some people feel government is just sexing up the figures. In their thought, government is only doing so to get more funding. In their argument, they proclaim that if indeed there are cases, why isn’t government giving a face to Covid-19?
But then, with the stigma and discrimination which the disease can bring, is disclosure a move in the right direction? We have already heard of medical workers being discriminated in society, as they are seen as harbingers of the novel virus. With a country mired in deep mob justice, some may take it on themselves against relatives of those found positive.
It is high time both sides came together to help stop the spread of this virus. It knows no political party colours, sadly.